Introduction: Medical education is changing rapidly to a more integrated, problem-oriented, clinically-relevant, collaborative-learning approach. In the new approach to medical education, standardized patients (SPs) are the gold standard for assessing and potentially teaching clinical skills. The Step 2 (CS) US Medical Licensure Exam (USMLE), now uses both live and telephone SP encounters to allow the student to demonstrate true clinical skill – not just the ability to choose the best answer. SPs are also recently used to train health professionals in practice.
Methods: Most communication with SPs typically occurs face-to-face. Using NIH SBIR funds from both NIDA, we are currently developing specifications for an Internet-chat based interaction that would mirror the clinical skills training benefit of face-to-face SP learning but take advantage of the capabilities of the Internet. The goal is to provide novel Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral for Treatment (SBIRT) training. An informal focus group was convened using a modified Delphi approach to come to a consensus regarding development and delivery of a realistic SP trained in substance abuse disorders. Medical education experts refined SP parameters and provided input into creating a successful remote SP experience. Through iterative rounds of discussion, medical education experts provided user and educator preferences for modes of SP delivery, performance feedback to the student or physician, the user interface, and perceived strengths and weaknesses of a remote SP encounter.
Results: Enthusiasm for using an Internet-chat basedd SP experience was high and noted as innovative. The specifications have evolved and are converging on a successful strategy for Internet-based skill training with SPs.
Conclusions: Using feedback from experts, we continue to refine our Internet-chat based SP methodology to teach clinical skills to medical students and practicing physicians. We are converging toward specifications that will define the optimal way to delivering an effective standardized patient learning experience using Internet technology.