vpSim is an easy-to-use, virtual patient authoring system designed by the team at The Laboratory for Educational Technology. Virtual patients (VPs) are computer-based simulations of medical cases for education and assessment. The Lab recognized barriers to development of VPs including high cost, complex authoring software, difficulty creating and visualizing complex branched decision paths, and a lack of standards compliance for exchange and sharing of cases.

The Lab used agile programming techniques to rapidly prototype and test vpSim with potential users. The primary objectives were to create an authoring environment for medical educators that required minimal training and stimulated creative case writing. The design was based on iterative feedback from both VP experts and new authors.

vpSim uses a Flash-based drag-and-drop visual interface for case design by representing screens and decisions with a map of nodes and branches. Patient data is added to each node using simple web forms that approximate the resulting on-screen appearance of the case. Features, based on user feedback, include multimedia support and counters to track score, money, and time. vpSim exports XML files based on the MedBiquitous VP technical standard for use by other authoring systems and VP players.

vpSim is used in both the Medical School and Pharmacy school curricula. An infertility case was featured in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology course for second year medical students in 2011. In 2010, a GI case was demonstrated in a small group of students in the Digestion and Nutrition course. The Pharmacology PharmD program uses vpSim for formative evaluation of traditional coursework. The Lab plans to expand the use of vpSim into other UPSOM courses and residency program as well.