Nurses to use 'virtual patients' in training

Nurses studying at a university are to use a popular online game to enhance their training.

Photograph: Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow Caledonian University has bought an island in the Second Life game which includes the campus nursing and midwifery school’s virtual laboratory.

Avatars have been created to represent typical patients and they interact with nursing students’ avatars to allow them to carry out patient assessments.

Each patient can be controlled by a tutor or by artificial intelligence and has a different history and reason for being admitted to hospital, as well as the ability to respond to a broad range of questions.

The assessments are recorded and can be analysed later with the student’s tutor.

Glasgow students are able to interact with patients on a six-bed ward which can be programmed to have patients with any symptoms, although current examples include abdomen pain, awaiting endoscopy and MRSA.

Dr Jacqueline McCallum, the university’s senior clinical lecturer for clinical simulation, said: ‘The students are given a ward report, go into the six-bedded ward and are expected to provide care for the patients. We are looking at their decision-making skills. Who do they decide to go to first and do something about? What do they do if they have a phone call about a patient and they need to sort things out?’

At the moment interaction is via keyboard but the technology exists for nurses to be able to talk on headsets to ‘patients’ who are programmed to verbally respond.

The first students are due to train in the lab in February.

Dr McCallum said there were a number of benefits of ‘virtual’ training. These include the ability to put nurses into situations that they would never normally be allowed to be in and also to gather them in a room with a team of health professionals in which they would be required to interact as they would do in every day life.

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