Using Virtual Patient Simulations to Prepare Primary Health Care Professionals to Conduct Substance Use and Mental Health Screening and Brief Intervention

J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2018 May/Jun;24(3):247-259. doi: 10.1177/1078390317719321. Epub 2017 Jul 28.


Background: Primary health care professionals are in an excellent position to identify, screen, and conduct brief interventions for patients with mental health and substance use disorders. However, discomfort in initiating conversations about behavioral health, time concerns, lack of knowledge about screening tools, and treatment resources are barriers.

Objective: This study examines the impact of an online simulation where users practice role-playing with emotionally responsive virtual patients to learn motivational interviewing strategies to better manage screening, brief interventions, and referral conversations.

Design: Baseline data were collected from 227 participants who were then randomly assigned into the treatment or wait-list control groups. Treatment group participants then completed the simulation, postsimulation survey, and 3-month follow-up survey.

Results: Results showed significant increases in knowledge/skill to identify and engage in collaborative decision making with patients.

Conclusions: Results strongly suggest that role-play simulation experiences can be an effective means of teaching screening and brief intervention.

Keywords: mental health; primary care; screening; simulations; substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / education*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Motivational Interviewing / methods
  • Patient Simulation*
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • United States