We appreciate the thoughtful responses to our recent article about the role of virtual patients (VPs) in the future of medical education. The letters by Dr. Robison and colleagues and by Dr. White and colleagues suggest that educational technologies may move beyond virtual patients, to virtual humans and virtual families. These are interesting and exciting proposals.
Our article addressed several challenges facing medical education, each of which we thought was particularly amenable to VP-based educational strategies. These challenges were in no way meant to be an exhaustive list of challenges facing medical education, or of possible uses of VPs. The letters point to additional challenges, such as patient- and family-centered care, communication skills, and interprofessional education, all of which are very important areas for improvement in medical education. We agree that there is also a place for virtual humans, virtual families, and virtual teams to address these issues. We also suggest that as Dr. Robison and colleagues and Dr. White and colleagues continue their work, they remain focused on developing products that will be used broadly, address important challenges, use sound educational strategies, and result in improved educational outcomes.
Ultimately, whether thinking about educational technologies or any other teaching methodology, what really matters is what is learned. With educational technology the possibilities are virtually unlimited, and there is a risk that technological features will result in cognitive overload rather than more learning. As educators try to advance the field by using educational technology, continued attention to educational theory and instructional design will remain critical.
Norman B. Berman, MD
Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire; email@example.com.
Steven J. Durning, MD, PhD
Professor, Departments of Medicine and Pathology, Uniformed Services University School of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland.
Martin R. Fischer, MD, MME
Professor and chair for medical education, University Hospital, LMU Munich, Munich, Germany.
Soeren Huwendiek, MD, MME
Senior lecturer and department head, Department of Assessment and Evaluation, Institute for Medical Education, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
Marc M. Triola, MD
Associate professor and associate dean for educational informatics, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.