Background Virtual patients (VPs) are a sub-type of healthcare simulation that have been underutilised in health education. Their use is increasing, but applications are varied, as are designs, definitions and evaluations. Previous reviews have been broad, spanning multiple professions not accounting for design differences.
Objectives The objective was to undertake a systematic narrative review to establish and evaluate VP use in pharmacy. This included VPs that were used to develop or contribute to communication or counselling skills in pharmacy undergraduates, pre-registration pharmacists and qualified pharmacists.
Study selection Eight studies were identified using EBSCO and were quality assessed. The eligibility criteria did not discriminate between study design or outcomes but focused on the design and purpose of the VP. All the included studies used different VP applications and outcomes.
Findings Four themes were identified from the studies: knowledge and skills, confidence, engagement with learning, and satisfaction. Results favoured the VPs but not all studies demonstrated this statistically due to the methods. VP potential and usability are advantageous, but technological problems can limit use. VPs can help transition knowledge to practice.
Conclusions VPs are an additional valuable resource to develop communication and counselling skills for pharmacy students; use in other pharmacy populations could not be established. Individual applications require evaluation to demonstrate value due to different designs and technologies; quality standards may help to contribute to standardised development and implementation in varied professions. Many studies are small scale without robust findings; consequently, further quality research is required. This should focus on implementation and user perspectives.
- virtual patient
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Contributors CLR conducted the narrative review and wrote the manuscript. SC and SW planned and designed the study, and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data availability statement There are no data in this work.
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