The Utility of Virtual Patient Simulations for Clinical Reasoning Education

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 24;17(15):5325. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17155325.


Virtual Patient Simulations (VPSs) have been cited as a novel learning strategy, but there is little evidence that VPSs yield improvements in clinical reasoning skills and medical knowledge. This study aimed to clarify the effectiveness of VPSs for improving clinical reasoning skills among medical students, and to compare improvements in knowledge or clinical reasoning skills relevant to specific clinical scenarios. We enrolled 210 fourth-year medical students in March 2017 and March 2018 to participate in a real-time pre-post experimental design conducted in a large lecture hall by using a clicker. A VPS program (®Body Interact, Portugal) was implemented for one two-hour class session using the same methodology during both years. A pre-post 20-item multiple-choice questionnaire (10 knowledge and 10 clinical reasoning items) was used to evaluate learning outcomes. A total of 169 students completed the program. Participants showed significant increases in average total post-test scores, both on knowledge items (pre-test: median = 5, mean = 4.78, 95% CI (4.55-5.01); post-test: median = 5, mean = 5.12, 95% CI (4.90-5.43); p-value = 0.003) and clinical reasoning items (pre-test: median = 5, mean = 5.3 95%, CI (4.98-5.58); post-test: median = 8, mean = 7.81, 95% CI (7.57-8.05); p-value < 0.001). Thus, VPS programs could help medical students improve their clinical decision-making skills without lecturer supervision.

Keywords: clinical reasoning; education support; symptomatology; virtual reality simulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Patient Simulation*
  • Portugal
  • Students, Medical*