Virtual patients: pre-clinical 2

Project summary

Virtual Patient: pre clinical 2 screenshot


One of the main strengths of medical education in Southampton is early patient contact. The students thrive on the integration between clinical input and basic scientific learning. Much of the teaching in the first two years of medicine is based on lectures, practicals, tutorials and symposia. Whilst these methods provide a variety of opportunities for interaction and reflection, it is always a challenge as an educator to present the basic scientific facts necessary to build a future medical career on, in a way that is relevant, interesting and educational. Therefore, the aim of the project was to develop a series of interactive Virtual Patients (VPs) to reinforce the link between science and their future medical career.

Whilst developing these VPs, there were several other needs to be aware of. eLearning can provide a platform for an alternative mode of learning, benefiting students with different learning styles and preferences. eLearning can also provide the opportunity for immediate feedback to the student. In addition, the VPs could provide teaching staff with a single model to refer to where appropriate, providing continuity in both teaching and learning.

Key features


The needs and requirements of the various stakeholder groups were initially assessed. This included liaison with curriculum management groups and students, as well as the GMC guidelines published in Tomorrow’s Doctors. Available literature concerning interactive multimedia, learning theories, Human Computer Interaction and medical education was reviewed. These findings formed the basis of the Year 2 VPs model.

The key features of Year 2 VPs include:

Interactivity is a vital part of eLearning and promotes deep learning. Key features used to promote the learning process with a VP are interactive and reflective tasks, narrative storytelling of basic and clinical sciences, and immediate and individualised feedback.

Visual presentation of clinical scenarios
A clinical scenario is illustrated with 3D animations or videos to facilitate contextualised learning and encourage students to see the scenario from the patient perspective.

Individualised feedback
Students receive immediate feedback for each question within a VP, and individual feedback on their performance at the end with links to recommended learning materials for the areas where their understanding is insufficient.

Contextualised learning of basic sciences
Basic science is embedded in a clinical scenario, enabling students to see its relevance to clinical science.

User tracking data recording and retrieval
Student interactions, answers and summary medical notes are stored in a database. This enables students to resume a VP at the same point where they exited from. The data are then used to analyse students’ performance and create individualised feedback. The data is also used to generate statistics for individual student and cohort’s use and performance of VPs. From course websites students can monitor their learning with VPs and use the information to improve their learning. For teaching staff, they can monitor the usage of and students’ performance for a VP for a particular cohort.

VPs have been designed as part of the reviewed BM5 programme, providing a framework for weekly learning, which allows members of teaching staff to base their teaching around the VP, providing a cohesive case based week of teaching.



  • Project lead: Dr Sunhea Choi
  • Lead authors for GI course: Dr Myron Christodoulides
  • Lead authors for ELC course: Dr Claire Smith, Dr Nicola Englyst, Dr Kirsten Poore
  • Clinical contributions: Dr Clare Verrill, Dr Derek Sandeman, Dr Ying Cheong
  • Multimedia Developer: Mimi Lee
  • eLearning Developer: Matthew Hammerton



Virtual Patients Year 2 has been developed by the Faculty of Medicine with match funding from NHS Education South Central.