Designing a Virtual Patient for Training Communication Skills

April Barnes-Renfro MS, Wright State University
Jennie Gallimore, PhD, Center for Human-Centered Innovation, Wright State University
Rosalyn Scott, MD, Dayton VA Medical Center
Phani Kidambi, MS Wright State University

A human-centered design approach is being used to design a high-fidelity, interactive virtual patient (VP) for training communications skills. The objectives of this research are: 1) to develop a high fidelity VP that facilitates intuitive, natural interaction 2) to develop objective measures of communication skills. The realism of the VP will be enhanced through the integration of communication and personality models and emotion detection. Communication and personality models are being developed using input from subject-matter experts, experienced clinicians, literature review, and validated theory. Voice characteristics such as tone and inflection are analyzed to identify the affective component of the user’s speech. This information will also be used to emulate emotion in the VP output in order to simulate a diverse range of personalities and scenarios. A prototype has been developed that utilizes speech recognition and a script-mapping mechanism to allow the learner to directly converse with the VP. Currently, the VP randomly selects one of three scripted responses initiated by a keyword in the user’s inquiry. Ultimately, the VP response will be dependent on the content and emotion of the learner’s speech, personality profiles and the specified learning objective. It is expected that the improved fidelity and objective evaluation of the VP interaction will significantly improve the training of communication and interpersonal skills for healthcare providers.