College of Health, Education and Human Development

Clemson faculty collaborate on innovative educational tool to enhance nursing curriculum and student experience

A virtual patient is an artificial intelligent human representation that behaves similarly to an actual patient under the same set of circumstances, including health care encounters. The system provides students with an opportunity to learn and refine patient interviewing skills and clinical decision making through interaction with the virtual patient group, which includes a simulated mother and child. An interdisciplinary research team of Clemson faculty members has combined their unique nursing and technology knowledge and experience to create the Pediatric Virtual Patient System. This project focuses on the development of an innovative instructional tool that has the ability to transform nursing clinical education.

Dr. Nancy Meehan and Dr. Arlene Johnson from the School of Nursing are collaborating with Dr. Larry Hodges from School of Computing to develop the system. Funding for the project was granted through an HEHD Interdisciplinary Research Innovations Grant and the Agency for Healthcare, Research and Quality (AHRQ).

What is the system?
The Pediatric Virtual Patient System is both an innovative and realistic instructional tool for bridging the gap between the academic setting and future nursing practice. A virtual patient is an artificial intelligent human representation that behaves similarly to an actual patient under the same set of circumstances, including health care encounters. The system provides students with an opportunity to learn and refine patient interviewing skills and clinical decision making through interaction with the virtual patient group, which includes a simulated mother and child.

“Since children are an identified vulnerable population, it is Drs. Nancy Meehan and Arlene Johnson from the School of Nursing and Dr. Larry Hodges from School of Computing are collaborating to develop a system that focuses on the development of an innovative instructional tool. The Pediatric Virtual Patient System has the ability to transform nursing clinical education. essential that nurses develop the skills needed to provide age-appropriate care,” Johnson said. “Experiential learning, such as the Pediatric Virtual Patient System, provides students with opportunities to develop essential patient interviewing skills prior to interaction with children and parents in the clinical setting.”

Progress and future plans
The team began working together to develop the concept in fall 2009. Software development started in spring 2010 through fall 2011, and a usability research study was conducted with nursing faculty participants in May 2011. Based upon results of the study, revisions were made to the system and it was pilot tested with students in June 2012. Additional revisions were made and a third research study was conducted in November 2012. Approximately 80 nursing students, including accelerated nursing and freshmen nursing students, participated in the most recent study.

Currently, the Pediatric Virtual Patient System is still in the research and evaluation phase of development. After the system has been deemed stable, there are plans to implement it into the undergraduate nursing pediatric course.

“Once the pediatric virtual patient has been refined for instructional use, plans are to incorporate it into the undergraduate senior pediatric nursing course,” Johnson said. “Interaction with the pediatric virtual patient system will enhance the students' pediatric interviewing and communication skills.”

See How The System Works

Benefits for enhancing learning
This pre-hospital experience with pediatric patients is important because it provides students with critical thinking exercises in a controlled environment prior to clinical experience, and such simulation leads to enhanced patient safety. Moreover, students’ self-efficacy is heightened through this experience.

“Nursing students have limited access to pediatric patients, as very few children receive care in the hospital setting, where pediatric clinical experiences traditionally occur,” Johnson said.

Coming together at Clemson
While the Pediatric Virtual Patient System is an innovative educational tool that will enhance the current nursing curriculum and student experience, it also beneficial to Clemson across other disciplines. This interdisciplinary and collaborative research team displays the synergy between the departments at the University. The project combines the knowledge expertise of Meehan in nursing informatics, Johnson as a pediatric nurse practitioner, and Hodges as a clinical virtual reality pioneer.

“The Pediatric Virtual Patient research embraces the mission of HEHD research by creating internal and external partnerships that link teaching and research,” Meehan said. “Collaboration among the various disciplines in the Virtual Patient research team has strengthened our opportunities for external research funding.”