Virtual patient simulation in breaking bad news training for medical students

Patient Educ Couns. 2020 Jul;103(7):1435-1438. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2020.01.019. Epub 2020 Jan 30.


Objective: The present study explores students' perspective on the added value of a virtual patient (VP) simulation as part of a breaking bad news training in undergraduate medical education.

Methods: The VP simulation allows trying out and practicing different ways of disclosing a cancer diagnosis to a VP (avatar) and to react to emotionally-laden patient statements with the opportunity of self-observation through video recording. After testing the simulation, 23 students shared their experience in focus groups analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: Self-observation is the most valued feature of the simulation, because it enables users to reflect on their behaviors and adjust them. The competences developed are otherwise technical (e.g., organization of information) and concern less interactional competences. Areas for improvement of the simulation are the interactivity, quality, and diversity of the VPs.

Conclusion: The findings show that VP simulations help develop technical communication competences and are best suited as add-ons to other forms of training, in which relational aspects can be targeted. Self-observation is especially valued because it allows for a critical view regarding one's own communication behaviors in a stress-free environment.

Practice implications: The proposed simulation is beneficial as an add-on to lectures, supervision, and simulated patient interviews.

Keywords: Breaking bad news; Communication training; Qualitative analysis; Undergraduate medical training; Virtual patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Patient Simulation
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Students, Medical*
  • Truth Disclosure