Virtual reality training launched so health and care professionals can test and develop their shared decision making skills

The Personalised Care Institute (PCI) has launched lifelike virtual reality training on shared decision making (SDM) for health and care professionals – after research found that nearly half (46%) report gaps in their knowledge and most (70%) would like to learn more¹.

The simulation, believed to be the first in the world to use non-immersive virtual reality to explore the key SDM microskills of agenda-setting, teach-back, exploring patient preferences around treatment options and reaching a shared decision, will allow NHS staff to test their skills in a risk-free environment.

SDM has been found to result in better patient outcomes, increased adherence to treatment, reduced repeat appointments and fewer regrets about decisions relating to their health and care2.

SDM is increasingly welcomed by patients, with 40% expressing a desire to be more involved in decisions about their health and care2, yet a report by The Patient Association¹ found that while 90% of healthcare professionals think it should be practised routinely, common perceived barriers include lack of experience, confidence and time.

‘Virtual Patient Simulation: Test Your Personalised Care Conversations’- developed in conjunction with Keele University – is a free, quality-assured eLearning tool that provides health and care professionals of all levels of seniority and experience with an opportunity to put their SDM skills to the test through a series of lifelike simulated patient consultations. 

The series breaks each consultation down into three distinct areas: introduction and understanding the patient’s history; exploring their preferences around the treatment options; and reaching a shared decision on the way forward. Multiple choice questions are used to provide a structured interaction between the healthcare professional and the on-screen animated patient character, allowing the exploration of different conversation pathways and techniques in a risk-free environment, without the pressure of observation. Comprehensive feedback is provided at the end of each exercise, with users able to put their learnings to the test through repeat use. 

The first two scenarios to be launched are an in-person consultation based on an osteoarthritis discussion and a remote consultation by telephone with a father concerning his son’s sore throat. Two further scenarios – a referral for suspected bowel cancer and a discussion around the ongoing use of antidepressants – are due to be launched in the coming months. 

Studies have shown that virtual patient tools offer a number of educational benefits for healthcare professionals, supporting learning around communication, understanding, decision-making, clinical reasoning and problem-solving3. Simulations have also been found to encourage greater engagement and facilitate repetitive practice, with the added benefit that learning can be completed by the healthcare professional at their own pace4.

Commenting on the launch of ‘Virtual Patient’, Dr Emma Hyde, Clinical Director of the PCI,  said: 

“We know that shared decision making leads to better outcomes for patients, with nine out of 10 healthcare professionals stating it should be used routinely and seven out of 10 expressing a desire to learn more about this vitally important personalised care approach5.

“While research suggests that, currently, only one in three HCPs always practise SDM fully, the fact that perceived common barriers include lack of experience, confidence and time6 suggests that these could be quickly overcome with the opportunity to practise.  

“This free learning tool has been designed to provide health and care practitioners at every level with a quick and easy way to test and develop their personalised care conversation skills in a risk-free environment, without the pressure that comes with being observed, and through a tool that can be accessed as required, to facilitate repeat practice.

“Not only will this training, commissioned by NHSE, equip health and care professionals with the shared decision making skills and knowledge needed to deliver the very best health outcomes for patients, it will also address the growing desire amongst the general public for greater involvement in key decisions that inform their healthcare.”  

Dr Priti Kadoo, a GP in frailty medicine and an ambassador for the PCI, said: 

“The Virtual Patient Simulation is a great elearning tool for both seasoned clinicians and those new to consulting. As an experienced GP I definitely learned from using it. 

“It helps you to reflect on current practice and really think about personalised care and striking the right balance between imparting clinical information while considering how the patient feels and is likely to respond to what you tell or ask them. It is a great way to learn and I enjoyed using it.”

Dr Jessica Thompson, Lecturer in Clinical and Professional Practice at Keele University said: 

“There is a strong drive towards person-centred care, and ensuring that people’s individual needs, preferences and values are explored to give people more control and choice when it comes to their care.

“Shared decision making is a skill and therefore practice is key. The Virtual Patient Simulations are a fantastic way for healthcare professionals to develop and practice their skills and improve their confidence to help patients get more involved in decisions about their care.

“The Virtual Patient Simulations we have helped to develop is part of our work to deliver world leading research and innovation that brings real world benefit to society, communities and individuals. The simulations really drive home the importance of providing care that is respectful and responsive to patients – which is what we teach our students on a daily basis.” 

Health and care professionals who would like to test their personalised care skills using the PCI’s new Virtual Patient simulation can visit the website and try the learning tool at: 

Registration with the PCI is free and simple, and, in addition to the new Virtual Patient series, learners gain immediate access to more than 100 quality-assured courses and resources at the NHS-commissioned home of personalised care education. 9/10 learners say these resources will improve their daily practice.

  1. The Patient Association: Shared decision making from the perspective of clinicians and healthcare Professionals. Appendix  2022.
  2. NHS England: About Shared Decision Making. 
  3. Journal of Medical Internet Research Virtual Patient Simulations in Health Professions Education: Systematic Review and Meta- Analysis 2019)
  4. Pharmacy Education: Virtual patient simulation in pharmacy education: A Systematic Review 2022. 
  5. The Patient Association: Shared decision making from the perspective of clinicians and healthcare Professionals. 2022.  

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