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How can Standardized/Simulated Patients help my program?

SPs are trained to present a scenario in the same manner for teaching, evaluation, or both. They are trained using real, carefully constructed, and controlled scenarios. Well-prepared SPs are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing—the best of both worlds!

The mission of the SP program is to have an SP realistically convey a situtaion to a student and do it in a consistent and measurable way. Mulitple SPs can be trained to do the same case. No matter which SP interacts with the student, he or she would receive the same information and responses while still being unique each time. This way we accurately teach and test students according to one standard per case. Each case can be altered or revised as needed. We strive to set standards that can be accurately reproduced.

SPs serve education by participating in the following areas:

  • Demonstration and instruction
  • Practice and experience
  • Evaluation and assessment

SPs are not meant as replacements for experience with real patients, parents, or clients but rather as highly realistic learning resources for students. This learning resource helps the students develop skills in interviewing, examination, and communication techniques.

Why use a Standardized/Simulated Patient?

SPs are non-biased and less concerned about their care. SPs can focus on the learners' actions, help them where deemed appropriate and necessary, and provide feedback.

  • Availability: A particular patient problem or scenario is available at any time or any place. The learner/educator does not have to hope someone with a particular issue or problem will show up and agree to be seen. Educators can create an optimal learning environment, based on the learner's experience and the objectives of the session instead of modifying the session to the available patient's problem.
  • Standardization: SPs are trained to portray a scenario consistently every time, allowing each learner the same learning opportunity. Each learner will see the same patient problem presented in the same format. Standardization allows the educators and the learners to compare and contrast the unique performances. Testing learners’ patient skills using SPs ensures a more predictable, reliable, and fair assessment.
  • Practice: Learners have a chance to practice interviewing skills or physical exam skills in a safe setting. Standardized Patients are trained to provide an environment where learners can practice a particular interview approach or try a new physical exam for the first time without risking the comfort, modesty, or safety of a "real" patient. Learners can also have a chance to work in emotionally charged situations such as domestic violence, angry patients, or a bad-news case without risk. SP encounters are learner-centered rather than patient-centered educational experience. Patient care in a clinical setting is not compromised. Clinical errors can be allowed to progress in order to teach the trainee the implications of, and how to correct, the errors. Encounters facilitate learner transition to care for real patients.
  • Adaptability: Cases that SPs portray can be adjusted to meet the needs of the learner, thus changing from simple to more complex.
  • Flexibility: SPs are a flexible educational tool. The encounter can "freeze" to discuss an issue or, if a teachable moment appears, use a technique called “time out and time in” so the student can reattempt if appropriate The SP also can be directed to play the case differently, with more anger or resistance, for example, so the learning experience can be optimized based on the level of expertise of the learner.

Skills where Standardized/Simulated Patients are beneficial

Communication

  • History taking
  • Complete history
  • Focused history
  • Problem-based history
  • Communication skills
  • Data gathering
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication challenges such as a difficult patient or breaking bad news
  • Addressing sensitive issues with patients

Physical Examination

  • Normal physical exam
  • Complete physical exam
  • Focused physical exam
  • Problem-based physical exam
  • Physical signs or findings
  • Sensitive or invasive examinations (gynecological/genitourinary)
  • Patient-perspective feedback and coaching

Feedback

Standardized/Simulated Patients are trained to provide feedback on the learner's professional manner, attitude, and interpersonal skills. This mode of feedback can be verbal, written, or through a checklist.

Feedback is immediate and from the patient's point of view. Most of the time it is unique, and it may be the only source of information that the student would receive from a patient regarding communication or clinical skills.

Recent uses of Standardized/Simulated Patients

Courses in the School of Medicine that use SPs in teaching and assessment

  • Basic Science of Care Course
  • Faculty Development
  • Behavioral Medicine - focusing on approaches of behavior change through Motivational Interviewing
  • A Residency program that focuses on introducing Shared Decision Making strategies
  • Ultrasound demonstration and practice 
  • Sexual Assaunt Nurse Examiners Training at Children's Hosptial and Duquesne
  • Family Therapy Simulation at the School of Nursing
  • Parent-Teacher Conference Simulation at the School of Educaiton
  • Prescription Counseling Practice at the School of Pharmacy
  • Behavioral Sciences Competency at the School of Dental Medicine
  • Pain Management & Care Simulation at the Veteren' Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS)

Interested in using Standardized/Simulated Patients for your course?

See How to Incorporate SPs into Courses and Consulting and Specialized Services Offered.