A pilot study to evaluate the use of an interactive virtual patient with depression to teach history-taking skills in a psychiatry clerkship

Hevil Shah, Amy House, David Lind, Adriana Foster, Brent Rossen, Benjamin Lok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Virtual patient (VP) technology in teaching general medical history-taking skills is increasing (or has been established). However, there are only few published applications1,2 of a psychiatric VP scenario in medical student education.We present preliminary data on the creation and evaluation of aWeb-based VP scenario that assesses students' ability to elicit symptoms of major depression. Methods: After Human Assurance Committee approval and informed consent, 67 third-year medical students on the first day of their psychiatry clerkship at the Medical College of Georgia participated in an online interaction with a 21-year-old female VP with a chief complaint of insomnia and fatigue (created using ApacheWeb Server, PHP Scripting Language, and MySQL Database). Students took a history by typing questions into a dialogue box similar to instant messaging. The VP responded based on keywords found in students' questions. After the interaction, students received feedback regarding their ability to elicit symptoms of major depression and completed a 10-item Likert-type 5-point scale survey about this educational tool. The survey also allowed comments about technical issues and system improvements. Results: The majority of students elicited each symptom of a major depressive episode. Overall, students appeared receptive to using this novel tool: 61% assessed it as average or good in learning how to formulate questions about depressive symptoms, and 40% found the immediate feedback on their interview good or excellent. Students suggested that this tool could be useful in the first 2 years of medical school to decrease anxiety and offer practice before interviewing patients. Common critiques addressed the lack of response or inappropriate response of the VP to some questions, mostly to empathetic statements (an inherent problem in the development of such scenarios). Conclusions: The use of VP psychiatric scenarios is feasible and based on 3rd-year students' feedback in the survey, they may become a useful adjunct in teaching clinical interactions in the preclinical years of medical training. In an online format, they can also be used by students outside the classroom setting as a complement to lecture, small-group learning or standardized patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-162
Number of pages2
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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