Teaching & Learning

Pros and Cons of Using Patients for Simulation

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using patients for medical simulation? Check out this post to find out the answer and get details!


The initial years of healthcare education are critical in improving students' attitudes toward medical & allied health training and practice. The purpose is to enhance their medical knowledge and train them for their role as medical or allied health practitioners.

Medical & allied health simulation is an advanced, cutting-edge teaching method that enables students to acquire clinical skills through repeatable, safe, and efficient practice. Simulation tools, such as manikins, virtual reality, augmented reality, and standardized patients are excellent alternatives to actual patients.

Medical & allied health simulation allows students to streamline their practice, make mistakes, and learn from them without harming real patients. According to the Carnegie Foundation, it is crucial to integrate formal medical knowledge with simulation-based clinical experiences in the learning environment. Early exposure to patient care enables students to:

  • Develop comfort with patients
  • Maintain clinical skills
  • Encourage active learning
  • Ensure learning is more relevant
  • Reduce challenges of transitioning to clinical practice

Actual and standardized patients are valid and reliable for teaching and assessing medical & allied health students across all levels of training. In addition, they are efficient means of learning across multiple domains, including clinical, interpersonal, and communication skills. Today's article will highlight the pros and cons of using patients in medical simulation. Read on!

Pros of Using Patients for Simulation

A 2021 study highlights that standardized patients are an excellent way to streamline learning because these trained professionals can reliably and consistently portray a medical scenario.

The goal is to ensure each medical or allied health student has the same learning opportunity. So, each learner will see and assess the same patient issues presented in the standardized format.

Standardization allows medical & allied health students, to compare and contrast unique practices and performances. At the same time, it enables teachers/instructors to test the students' skills regarding the treatment of patients in a more reliable, predictable, and fair way.

Excellent Educational Resource

Patients are an efficient educational resource for students in the learning environment. For instance, bedside teaching is a valuable method for instructors to teach students essential skills, such as history taking, physical examination, communication, and procedural skills.

Students consider using patients, including actual and standardized patients, are an effective way to develop communication and physical examination skills. The primary reason is that patients can provide feedback and support students make informed decisions based on the recorded or documented data from the feedback.

A 2014 research study reports that patients' use in medical & allied health simulation is not stressful for individuals. The study concludes that researchers could not find any signs of physiological stress, including changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma norepinephrine levels.

Therefore, using patients, including standardized ones, is an excellent educational resource and reliable teaching method. However, it is crucial to follow the guidelines and standards the health department sets to ensure patient safety.

Accurate Feedback

Unlike real patients, standardized patients are well-trained to provide essential feedback on the student's attitude, interpersonal, communication, and procedural skills. The primary benefit is the immediate feedback and the patient's point of view, allowing students to analyze the situation and act accordingly.

So this improves the student's self-confidence in treating a patient because they value the direct feedback on their performance. Instructors must also collaborate during the learning process to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of students. The purpose is to improve the integration of interpersonal and technical skills.

According to a 2016 study published on NCBI, standardized patients can highlight the patient's perspective and provide feedback on subjective and objective aspects of medical history and physical examination. So, this improves students' conversational and clinical skills for an actual patient in a medical scenario.

Cons of Using Patients for Simulation

Although numerous research studies, including peer-reviewed and meta-analysis, support the role of standardized patients, many researchers argue that they are not actual patients, meaning they don't suffer from a particular disease.

For instance, standardized patients are not in the physical or mental discomfort and just portray the symptoms, signs, discomfort, and pain through their acting. So, the chances are that they may not perform well.

On the other hand, actual patients can facilitate medical students becoming confident in their conversational and physical examination skills. However, this requires careful planning, preparation, and reassurance from a qualified and experienced medical practitioner. Here are some of the downsides of using patients for simulation.

Uncertain Availability of Suitable Patients

A recent study highlights that the use of patients for simulation can increase the risk of variability due to differences between clinical instructors, students, and patients from time to time. The uncertain availability of well-trained and suitable patients is one of the most significant downsides of this learning method.

In addition, patients may suffer from crucial conditions and complications, preventing them from participating in the simulation. For example, shorter hospital stays, reduced number of faculty instructors, increased number of students, and lack of resources, such as beds, medical equipment, and tools, are other factors that deteriorate the effectiveness of this teaching method.

Higher Costs

Using standardized patients as instructors is costly for many medical & allied health facilities because hiring, training, and providing them with resources to participate in the activity require funds. The same is true for actual patients because they also need training for participating in the simulation.

However, once trained, both standardized and actual patients can help medical & allied health instructors and students streamline the teaching and learning process. A 2021 cross-sectional study shows that patient contacts are essential in healthcare education, even with advanced, cutting-edge simulation techniques.

At the same time, researchers recommend not overburdening standardized and real patients' educational roles. The institution must develop a sophisticated program and set goals/limits to maintain patients' overall wellbeing.

Program directors and teachers at each medical & allied health institution should implement evidence-based methods to prevent risks and streamline the learning process. Remember, arranging funds is integral to the use of patients for simulation.

Final Words

There are numerous benefits of using actual and standardized patients for simulation. Some of them are flexibility, control, and active learning. However, standardized patients are more beneficial because they are available when needed, can meet the learners' needs, and offer uniformity of experiences across students.

On the other hand, real patients have numerous limitations that hinder students from learning appropriately. These patients are unavailable frequently and have ethical and legal concerns about their privacy and comfort.

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