Virtual patient cases: a qualitative study of the requirements and perceptions of authors

Nancy Posel1, Bruce M. Shore2 and David Fleiszer1

1Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Canada

2Faculty of Education, McGill University, Canada

Submitted: 26/05/2012; Accepted: 25/08/2012; Published: 09/09/2012

Int J Med Educ. 2012; 3:175-182; doi: 10.5116/ijme.5038.a1e1

© 2012 Nancy Posel et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: To explore the self-defined knowledge requirements of medical educators who had authored virtual patient cases, to examine their perceptions about the actual authoring or development process, and to then compare these responses with available literature on this subject.

Methods: Qualitative data from semi-structured interviews were analysed using an adaptation of constant-comparative methodology. A purposive sample of eight medical educators with expertise in authoring virtual patient cases participated in this study.

Results: Analysis of data revealed five themes: (a) The role of virtual patient cases within medical curricula; (b) The role of curricular revision; (c) The learner; (d) The educator; and (e) Outstanding issues. Case design specifications were also described. Participants emphasized that a comprehensive picture of a virtual patient case-based curriculum did not yet exist.

Conclusions: Data from this study defined specific areas of relevance for virtual patient cases creation from the perspective of expert virtual patient case authors. The results demonstrated a general congruence between available academic theory as reported in the literature and the practical realities of virtual patient case authoring. However, specific issues that have not yet been addressed in the literature were also emphasized by the participants and these findings can be used to support medical educators in their development of new virtual patient cases as well as provide direction for research and publications in the this field.