Standardized Patients

About Standardized Patients

"The Simulated/Standardized Patient (SP) is a person who has been carefully coached to simulate an actual patient so accurately that the simulation cannot be detected by a skilled clinician. In performing the simulation, the SP presents the gestalt of the patient being simulated; not just the history, but the body language, the physical findings, and the emotional and personality characteristics as well." From HS Barrows Simulated (Standardized) Patients and Other Human Simulations, 1987

What is a Standardized Patient?

Standardized Patients (SP's) are individuals carefully trained to portray patients who simulate common medical conditions, or persons trained to present their own condition in a standardized way. Encounters give medical students, residents or other health care professionals the opportunity to learn and practice effective communication and examination techniques with real people without fatiguing actual patients. This practice is now widely accepted with SP's facilitating throughout the world as a teaching and testing resource. SP's provide highly realistic clinical experiences for the development of interpersonal clinical skills.

Areas of study and testing include:

  • Interviewing skills
  • History taking skills
  • Physical examination techniques
  • Patient education
  • Management planning
  • Test result interpretation

What Does a Standardized Patient Do?

SP's study a case overview and train to the specific responses, behaviors and skills necessary for realistic, standardized portrayals. Training sessions vary per case. Trainings may involve a video review of previous encounters, and generally involve coaching and/or role-play. Times are somewhat flexible and are scheduled in advance.

In many cases the SP (unlike a real patient) is asked to come out of role at the end of the encounter and provide the student with valuable, objective verbal feedback. In testing situations, SP's are trained to complete formal evaluations of each student (including written feedback) based on a specific set of skills being assessed. These evaluations often make up a large part of the student's grade for a particular activity.