Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

European Pharmacy Students' Experience with Virtual Patient Technology

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

European Pharmacy Students' Experience with Virtual Patient Technology

Article excerpt


Healthcare education, including pharmacy practice, has benefited from simulation-based learning since the early 1970s. (1,2) Several types of simulation have been used in pharmacy education in the United States, including simulated and/or standardized patients, computer-based learning simulations, high-fidelity human simulators, and virtual-reality patients. (2) Multimedia-based healthcare education, including the use of virtual patients, is considered to be educationally effective and has been described favorably when compared with traditional instruction. (3)

There are varying proposals for how to define virtual patients. For instance, in proposing a virtual patient typology, Huwendiek and colleagues described it as "an interactive computer simulation of real-life clinical scenarios for the purpose of healthcare and medical training, education, and assessment." (4) Apart from a number of medical specialties comprising, among others, training in lifesaving events, (5) virtual patients have also been used in other health professions, ranging from nursing (6) and occupational therapy (7) to pharmacy practice. (8,9) Pharmacists have participated in initiatives to test virtual patient-based education within multi-professional groups, (10) as well as in initiatives to develop interprofessional integration among health professions students. (11)

Among other purposes, virtual patient technology was designed to promote students' clinical reasoning (12) and the development of communication skills. (13) Users' opinions of this educational resource, including medical students' acceptance of virtual patient design principles and of virtual patient-based learning and assessment tools, indicate that virtual patient technology benefits both clinical reasoning and communication skills. (14-16)

In addition to virtual laboratories for training students in the basic sciences, (17) multimedia simulation (18,19) and virtual patient technology (20) have been successfully implemented in pharmacy education. While there have been European virtual patient technology initiatives since the early 2000s, (21,22) in particular the development of shared electronic patients (eViPs) across European countries, (23) use among European colleges and schools of pharmacy is not widespread and European users' opinions of this computer-assisted educational resource are not well known.

The objective of this study was to explore the perceptions and attitudes of European undergraduate pharmacy students regarding the use or potential use of virtual patient technology during their pharmacy education, and to use these findings as a starting point for a more comprehensive survey of pharmacy education programs and students in those programs.


The research followed a descriptive, observational cross-sectional design that used a printed self-administered survey instrument to gather data. The aim was not to obtain a statistical representation of users' of virtual patient technology in the European pharmacy student population, but to create a first portray of how this technology is being used.

Following ethical approval by the University of Lisbon's Faculty of Pharmacy's ethics committee, European Pharmaceutical Students' Association's (EPSA's) executive board gave its informed consent to conduct the survey. EPSA encompasses 28 European pharmacy student associations as well as individual members. The study was introduced and survey instrument administered during a plenary session of EPSA's 34th Annual Congress in April 2011, in Lisbon. After being informed about the study's purpose and implications, participants voluntarily completed the questionnaire. The data from this convenience sample were collected anonymously and handled confidentially. In a culturally diverse group that encompassed different countries and universities, researchers were aware that differences might exist in study participants' concepts of virtual reality and virtual patient technology. …

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