Death is not always a failure: outcomes from implementing an online virtual patient clinical case in palliative care for family medicine clerkship

Med Educ Online. 2013 Nov 22;18:22711. doi: 10.3402/meo.v18i0.22711.


Background: The dying patient is a reality of medicine. Medical students, however, feel unprepared to effectively manage the complex end-of-life (EOL) management issues of the dying patient and want increased experiential learning in Palliative Care.

Aims: To address the need for more formal curriculum in EOL care, we developed and implemented an online virtual patient (VP) clinical case in Palliative Care into the 2010-2011 Year Three Family Medicine Clerkship rotation curriculum.

Methods: A mixed-method design was used to measure the change in knowledge and perceived preparedness level in EOL care before and after completing the online VP case. A survey collected qualitative descriptions of the students' educational experience of using this case.

Results: Ninety five percent (130/137) of the students voluntarily consented to have their results analyzed. The group knowledge score (n=127) increased significantly from a pre-course average of 7.69/16±2.27, to a post-course average of 10.02/16±2.39 (p<0.001). The students' self-assessed comfort level increased significantly with all aspects of EOL management from pre-course to post-course (p<0.001). Nearly, 91.1% of the students rated the VP realism as 'Good to Excellent', 86% rated the case as educationally beneficial. Nearly 59.3% of students felt emotionally engaged with the VP. Qualitative feedback found that the case content was very useful and realistic, but that the interface was sometimes awkward to navigate.

Conclusions: The online VP case in Palliative Care is a useful teaching tool that may help to address the need for increased formal Palliative Care experience in medical school training programs.

Keywords: end-of-life care; end-of-life decision-making; online learning; palliative care; undergraduate medical education; virtual patient.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death
  • Canada
  • Clinical Clerkship*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Curriculum
  • Decision Making
  • Education, Distance
  • Family Practice / education*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care*
  • Treatment Outcome*
  • User-Computer Interface