Title

Using Foreign Virtual Patients With Medical Students in Germany: Are Cultural Differences Evident and Do They Impede Learning?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-1-2016

Publication Title

Journal Of Medical Internet Research

Abstract

Background: Learning with virtual patients (VPs) is considered useful in medical education for fostering clinical reasoning. As the authoring of VPs is highly demanding, an international exchange of cases might be desirable. However, cultural differences in foreign VPs might hamper learning success. Objective: We investigated the need for support for using VPs from the United States at a German university, with respect to language and cultural differences. Our goal was to better understand potential implementation barriers of a intercultural VP exchange. Methods: Two VPs were presented to 30 German medical students featuring a cultural background different from German standards with respect to diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, ethical aspects, role models, and language (as identified by a cultural adaptation framework). Participants were assigned to two groups: 14 students were advised to complete the cases without further instructions (basic group), and 16 students received written explanatory supplemental information specifically with regard to cultural differences (supplement group). Using a 6-point scale (6=strongly agree), we analyzed the results of an integrated assessment of learning success as well as an evaluation of cases by the students on usefulness for learning and potential issues regarding the language and cultural background. Results: The German students found it motivating to work with cases written in English (6-point scale, 4.5 points). The clinical relevance of the VPs was clearly recognized (6 points), and the foreign language was considered a minor problem in this context (3 points). The results of the integrated learning assessment were similar in both groups (basic 53% [SD 4] vs supplement 52% [ SD 4] correct answers, P=.32). However, students using the supplemental material more readily realized culturally different diagnostic and therapeutic strategies (basic 4 vs supplement 5 points, P=.39) and were less affirmative when asked about the transferability of cases to a German context (basic 5 vs supplement 3 points, P=.048). Conclusions: German students found English VPs to be highly clinically relevant, and they rated language problems much lower than they rated motivation to work on cases in English. This should encourage the intercultural exchange of VPs. The provision of supplemental explanatory material facilitates the recognition of cultural differences and might help prevent unexpected learning effects.

DOI

10.2196/jmir.6040

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