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J Surg Res. 2011 Apr;166(2):176-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2010.04.052. Epub 2010 May 22.

Description of web-enhanced virtual character simulation system to standardize patient hand-offs.

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Department of Surgery, Health Science Center, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32610-0826, USA.



The 80-h work week has increased discontinuity of patient care resulting in reports of increased medication errors and preventable adverse events. Graduate medical programs are addressing these shortcomings in a number of ways.


We have developed a computer simulation platform called the Virtual People Factory (VPF), which allows us to capture and simulate the dialogue between a real user and a virtual character. We have converted the system to reflect a physician in the process of "checking-out" a patient to a covering physician. The responses are tracked and matched to educator-defined information termed "discoveries." Our proof of concept represented a typical post-operative patient with tachycardia. The system is web enabled.


So far, 26 resident users at two institutions have completed the module. The critical discovery of tachycardia was identified by 62% of users. Residents spend 85% of the time asking intraoperative, postoperative, and past medical history questions. The system improves over time such that there is a near-doubling of questions that yield appropriate answers between users 13 and 22. Users who identified the virtual patient's underlying tachycardia expressed more concern and were more likely to order further testing for the patient in a post-module questionnaire (P = 0.13 and 0.08, respectively, NS).


The VPF system can capture unique details about the hand-off interchange. The system improves with sequential users such that better matching of questions and answers occurs within the initial 25 users allowing rapid development of new modules. A catalog of hand-off modules could be easily developed. Wide-scale web-based deployment was uncomplicated. Identification of the critical findings appropriately translated to user concern for the patient though our series was too small to reach significance. Performance metrics based on the identification of critical discoveries could be used to assess readiness of the user to carry off a successful hand-off.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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