BACKGROUND: Problem-based learning (PBL) has been widely adopted in medical education. Learners become bored with paper-based cases as they progress through their studies.
AIM: To breathe life (i.e. develop virtual patients) into paper-based PBL cases.
METHODS: The "patients" in paper-based PBL cases in one Year 2 were transformed into virtual patients by simulated patients role-playing and the videos and associated patient data uploaded to Bond's Virtual Hospital, a mobile Application. In unsupervised "clinical teams", second-year students undertook "ward rounds" twice a week, prompted by a virtual consultant and registered nurse. Immediately following the "ward rounds", they met with a clinician facilitator to discuss their "patients".
RESULTS: Apart from some minor technical issues, the experience was rated positively by students and clinical facilitators. They claimed that it provided students with a sense of what happens in the real world of medicine. The group work skills students had developed during PBL stood them in good stead to self-manage their "clinical teams".
CONCLUSIONS: This more authentic PBL experience will be extended to earlier semesters as well as later in the curriculum as the virtual hospital can be used to expose learners to a profile of patients that may not be guaranteed during hospital rounds.