Standardized Patients (SPs) sometimes known as “simulated patients” or “patient actors” are the gold standard for measuring clinical skills in healthcare professionals.
I-TECH South Africa is using SPs to measure the quality of care for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for an operations research (OR) study in the Northwest Province. Ten South African actors, five men and five women, will visit 40 clinics before a new STI training program and at two time periods after the training.
The SP training for actors was led by Tamara Owens and Erushka Pillay. Owens has served as a director overseeing the use of SPs for more than 16 years. She is also a Past President of the Association of Standardized Patient Educators. Pillay is the Program Manager for Sexually Transmitted Infections and Prevention for I-TECH South Africa.
“Congratulations to Tamara and I-TECH South Africa on a well-designed and organized training,” said Marcia Weaver, principal investigator for the STI-OR Study. “I enjoyed seeing the actors transform into credible STI patients. They needed to say enough to lead to the correct diagnosis among well-trained health professionals, but not display more medical knowledge than an average patient.”
“I was very impressed with the patient actors selected by Ms. Pillay and her team,” Owens said. ” The actors believed in the goal of the study and as a result were engaged in the immersive training sessions completely. By the end of the field pilot, I could truly call them Standardized Patients.”
SPs can be used to examine skills at the end of pre-service training and to assess skills at the beginning of training, such as in a residency program. They have also been used to measure the quality of care in clinical practice settings and to measure the effects of training, such as the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness program. SPs are also useful as an interactive training tool where a hands-on approach to learning clinical skills is desired. Sometimes clinicians are aware they are being observed and the encounters are filmed. At other times, clinicians consent to an SP encounter, but the SP visit is unannounced, similar to a mystery shopper in retail research.
“I hope other I-TECH programs will take advantage of utilizing SPs for training and measuring the quality of care,” Weaver said.