E-Learning Unit


Bringing Virtual Patients to Life

Contributor: Dr Lauren Goundry
School: Institute of Health Sciences Education


Virtual patients are a form of e-learning that uses interactive computer simulations that mimics real life clinical scenarios for the purpose of healthcare education. QMUL has a virtual hospital which can be found on QMplus. A virtual genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic was developed, using Articulate Storyline 2, and has been uploaded to this virtual hospital.

The E-learning Unit funded a project which would enhance the virtual GUM clinic by replacing the illustrated characters currently used with photographic characters. The aim being to improve the realism and bring the virtual patients to life.

Background & Context

Medical students at Bart’s and the London are taught about sexual health during their fourth year on the MBBS programme.  Teaching comprises of an intensive lecture filled week and a short clinical attachment. Student feedback has asked for an increase in clinical exposure however this presents a challenge.  Due to a large volume of students, the sensitive subject matter (meaning student presence may be not be readily approved by patients) and an increasingly stretched NHS we sought to address this issue using e-learning.

I used Articulate Storyline 2 to create a virtual GUM clinic (see images 1 & 2) consisting of five virtual patients that cover five different topics in sexual health as well as teaching about what happens in a GUM clinic, specialist communication skills and health promotion. A focus group was held with fourth year students to obtain feedback on these resources.  One area for potential improvement was highlighted.  Students advised they would prefer photographs of real people as opposed to the illustrated characters used.  They felt the illustrated characters were not realistic and some even felt they trivialised the content.   The photographic characters available on Articulate were not appropriate in terms of demographic or attire and unfortunately additional character packs for perpetual licenses of Articulate Storyline are no longer available for purchase.  We therefore decided to make our own.

Examples of the illustrated characters used in the Virtual GUM Clinic


The E-learning Unit funded an e-learning assistant to create an image bank of stock photography that could be used to replace the illustrated characters used in Articulate packages.  The e-learning assistant was employed to complete the following tasks:

  • Recruit volunteers willing to be photographed. Minimum of 4 volunteers willing to pose as doctors and minimum of 5 volunteers willing to pose as sexual health patients. Volunteers to be representative of the population as a whole.
  • Obtain written consent to be photographed from volunteers
  • Photograph volunteers in different poses with different facial expressions (no intimate photographs as diagrams used to illustrate points where necessary). Photographs to be taken in a clinical environment.
  • Edit photographs


This project, as stated above, has been completed.  The image database is stored on the shared drive for use by future e-learning fellows when developing further virtual patients.  We hope that this project will contribute to bringing virtual patients to life in order to improve the realism of these elearning packages and ultimately enhance the learning experience.

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