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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 11 | Sep. 5 , 2002

Patients from Cyberspace Invade Medical Curriculum

Simulation program is latest teaching tool

By Hilary Thomson

How can a patient have a multitude of complaints, be examined, tested and undergo numerous surgical interventions without setting foot in a doctor's office?

It's easy if you're CyberPatient, an interactive multimedia web-based teaching tool created by Surgery Prof. Karim Qayumi.

The first of its kind in North America, it will be used by UBC medical students this fall and will form a key part of the faculty's interactive medical curriculum that is being developed over the next two years.

"Nobody has come up with a holistic approach like this," says Qayumi. "UBC is a leader in this area of Intranet medical curriculum."

Currently, CyberPatient teaches students how to treat 12 types of acute abdominal problems.

"I want to revolutionize how medicine is taught," says Qayumi, a faculty member since 1989. "Learning textbook definitions of disease is approaching medicine backwards. Students need to learn symptoms, define causes and then diagnose."

Qayumi started building the program in 1998 with the help of his now 26-year-old son, Tarique, who was studying at UBC that summer.

Qayumi's vision of a tool to teach practical medicine and his son's computer abilities yielded simulation software that combines the elements of video game, tutorials and 'hands-on' experience.

After two years of development and a copyright on the program, Qayumi and partners in Japanese medical schools researched the effectiveness of the program compared to traditional textbook learning. They measured the academic performance of 140 students. The research showed that the program significantly boosted performance of students who were struggling with textbook learning.

"This program is a major breakthrough for medical schools using problem-based learning," says Qayumi. "Students can learn anywhere, anytime. That makes the most of our scarce teaching resources." In addition, the flexibility of the program allows it to be adapted for continuing medical education.

Functional on any computer or laptop, CyberPatient is accessed with a password that takes the student to an on-screen cyber-hospital. Sounds of sirens and ambulance dispatchers are broadcast as the screen zooms the viewer in to an emergency ward.

A menu of fictional patient names pops up and by selecting one, the student is led step- by-step through patient care - from the first symptoms through history taking, examination, diagnostic tests, lab results, surgery and post-operative care.

CyberPatient's level of detail is impressive. When the student tests the patient's blood pressure, each click of the mouse inflates the cuff on the arm of the animated patient and the level of the on-screen blood pressure gauge moves up millimetre by millimetre.

Stethoscope exams not only guide students to the right spot but also provide the sound that would be heard through the instrument. If surgery is required, the student uses the mouse to pick up the correct surgical instrument to make an incision. The on-screen patient then opens up to show an anatomically accurate landscape of internal organs - a job that can take animators involved in the project up to six months to produce.

After the patient's file is closed the student reports to a cyber head of surgery who asks questions about the case. Every right answer is reinforced with the response "That's correct, doctor - good work." Errors earn a negative response or 'punishment' as in a video game.

The student receives a score on their performance.

Qayumi is developing CyberPatient to include additional disease pathologies and surgical problems.

For more information contact qayumi@interchange.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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