Adverse healthcare events and medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in industrialised countries.
And deficiencies in non-technical skills – including decision-making, situational awareness, communication, teamwork and leadership – are a significant contributor to this rather sobering statistic.
So, how can we effectively train our healthcare professionals to become more proficient in non-technical skills?
Dr Monica Peddle believes that virtual patient experiences at the undergraduate level may hold the key.
“Virtual patient experiences are interactive simulations of real-life clinical scenarios that allow students to put theory into practice,” explains Peddle. “But the focus has traditionally been on technical skills.”
Peddle is addressing the gap with the Virtual Simulated Patient Resource, a free platform that allows undergraduate learners to practice non-technical skills that are essential to competent patient care.
Online modules develop fundamental knowledge related to non-technical skills. A series of virtual patient scenarios, using a ‘choose your own adventure’ game, depicts the patient’s story over time. Virtual patient scenarios, featuring videos with actors in realistic clinical settings, follows a pre-briefing that orientates students to the patient and situation.
As students select from choices that appear on the screen, a branching algorithm determines the next video in the sequence to progress the simulation.
“The resource is designed to be completed prior to attending placement to enable students to maximise learning opportunities in the clinical setting,” says Peddle. “And it only takes around six hours to complete.”
Established in 2014, the Virtual Simulated Patient Resource now has over 13,000 active users. It is used by higher education providers in Australia and the United States, and at TAFE and registered training organisations.
Peddle has examined the resource’s effectiveness in teaching non-technical skills and have found that it promotes learning for both students and faculty. “Students also develop a practice repertoire that may be transferrable to different contexts,” she says.
“The ultimate goal is to enhance professional competency which, in turn, supports an outstanding patient experience.”