Can a Virtual Patient Be Used as an Individual, Team and System Needs Assessment Tool?

Timothy Willett MD, CRI Critical Care Education Network, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
Pierre Cardinal, MD, MScEpi, FRCPC, University of Ottawa
Thomas Low, MD, University of Ottawa

Virtual patients (VPs) are being instituted across the health education spectrum. In reported cases, VPs are being used for teaching/learning goals or as the basis for self-, formative and summative assessments. In the educational development cycle, needs assessments play a critical role for identifying priority learning needs to guide the development process. Currently, there are no reports in the health literature of a VP being used for needs assessments. We hypothesize that a VP could help to identify unperceived needs. To pilot-test a VP for this purpose, we conducted facilitated VP sessions using the SimuCase VP software with two interprofessional groups of 4 individuals (1 MD plus RNs, RT and/or pharmacist). In advance, to determine potential needs this VP may identify, we created a matrix: CanMeds Roles on one axis; individual competencies, team competencies and system functions on the other. We used video review and group reflection to determine which of the individual, team, and system aspects the VP was able to elucidate. For individuals, the VP elucidated needs with respect to all CanMeds roles. For teams, the VP revealed needs related to medical expert, communicator, collaborator and manager roles. For system function, the VP elucidated barriers and enablers related to medical expert, communicator, collaborator and health advocate. While further trials are necessary, it appears that VPs may be useful to identify unperceived needs of individuals, teams and systems.