Shared Decision-Making With a Virtual Patient in Medical Education: Mixed Methods Evaluation Study

JMIR Med Educ. 2021 Jun 10;7(2):e22745. doi: 10.2196/22745.


Background: Shared decision-making (SDM) is a process in which clinicians and patients work together to select tests, treatments, management, or support packages based on clinical evidence and the patient's informed preferences. Similar to any skill, SDM requires practice to improve. Virtual patients (VPs) are simulations that allow one to practice a variety of clinical skills, including communication. VPs can be used to help professionals and students practice communication skills required to engage in SDM; however, this specific focus has not received much attention within the literature. A multiple-choice VP was developed to allow students the opportunity to practice SDM. To interact with the VP, users chose what they wanted to say to the VP by choosing from multiple predefined options, rather than typing in what they wanted to say.

Objective: This study aims to evaluate a VP workshop for medical students aimed at developing the communication skills required for SDM.

Methods: Preintervention and postintervention questionnaires were administered, followed by semistructured interviews. The questionnaires provided cohort-level data on the participants' views of the VP and helped to inform the interview guide; the interviews were used to explore some of the data from the questionnaire in more depth, including the participants' experience of using the VP.

Results: The interviews and questionnaires suggested that the VP was enjoyable and easy to use. When the participants were asked to rank their priorities in both pre- and post-VP consultations, there was a change in the rank position of respecting patient choices, with the median rank changing from second to first. Owing to the small sample size, this was not analyzed for statistical significance. The VP allowed the participants to explore a consultation in a way that they could not with simulated or real patients, which may be part of the reason that the VP was suggested as a useful intervention for bridging from the early, theory-focused years of the curriculum to the more patient-focused ones later.

Conclusions: The VP was well accepted by the participants. The multiple-choice system of interaction was reported to be both useful and restrictive. Future work should look at further developing the mode of interaction and explore whether the VP results in any changes in observed behavior or practice.

Keywords: communication; medical education; shared decision making; virtual patient.