Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Learning

Standardized Patient Actors

Simulation Modalities - Standardized Patient Actor

Given that the best way to replicate a human being is with a human being, many aspects of the real clinical world can be evoked using specially trained actors to portray patients with particular health conditions or concerns. Because of their special training they are referred to as “Standardized Patients” (SP). They are able to give a consistent and pre-defined account of their condition and to answer the full spectrum of questions about themselves.

Simulation Modalities - Standardized Patient Actor

This allows students or other learners to practice taking a medical history and carrying on a cogent clinical conversation with patients with a variety of diseases. SPs can be trained to portray different individuals from a diversity of cultures or sub-cultures or with particular communication challenges. SPs can also undergo physical examination by the learner, although in general they are healthy individuals who may not have any or all of the clinical findings evidenced by the specific case being replicated. Some SPs are actually patients who chronically show certain physical findings.

Part of the special training of SP actors is on how to evaluate the history, conversation, and physical examination of the learner clinician. Thus, the simulated “patient” will assess the performance of the clinician; this is sometimes complemented by an assessment from an expert clinician instructor viewing the clinical interaction either in real-time or using video recordings.

Simulation Modalities - Standardized Patient Actor

SPs are highly effective for early learners (e.g. medical students) just acquiring the skills of history taking and physical examination, but also for more advanced personnel needing practice or assessment in handling complex or difficult patient encounters (for example “end-of-life” discussions or the delivery of “bad news").

SPs are appropriate simulators in clinic or ward-like settings where no interventions or therapies are provided on the spot (the actors can’t be given medications or be stuck with needles or tubes!), and in which dynamic changes in the patient’s condition over minutes or hours will not occur. For the latter kinds of situations, other simulation modalities are needed.

videoWatch a trigger video in action…

Standardized Patient actors (or other simulators) can also be used to create special teaching movies to stimulate discussion (called “trigger videos"). These have been used for example to help teach physicians about how best to conduct conversations with patients and families about end of life issues. Also, there is a move to make virtual patients available on the computer screen or internet (See a movie example).



For more information about the Standardized Patient Program visit their website:

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