Can chatbots improve healthcare training?

As rapid advances in the field of chatbot technology such as ChatGPT have raised some concerns for educators, Flinders University researchers say that chatbots have great potential in communication skills training for health professionals using Virtual Clients.

Virtual Client Conversations is an innovative, interactive platform for learning and practising communication skills using chatbots, designed in a cross-college collaboration between the Colleges of Nursing and Health Sciences, Science and Engineering, and Medicine and Public Health.

Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Behavioural Health Andrea Morello says that virtual training tools allow for individuals and teams to practice and build confidence before treating patients.

“Chatbots used for education present an opportunity for learners to practice communication skills, reinforce learnings, and build confidence within a safe space”, said Ms Morello.

Dr Candice Oster, Research Fellow in the Caring Futures Institute, says that Virtual Client Conversations has been researched and developed to provide accurate and simple responses.

“Unlike many chatbots, which can generate confusing or incorrect responses, Virtual Client Conversations has been developed to scaffold learning within a structured conversation, allowing learners to practise their conversation skills without the conversation going off track”, said Dr Oster.

Virtual Client Conversations is currently being used in an online Motivational Interviewing course and was recently part of a government funded competitive tender for health professional training. Participants in the training commented on the inclusion of the chatbot as part of the “great resources and variety of modules in keeping learning interesting”.

Further applications are underway in the fields of chronic condition management and social prescribing. The prototype has successfully undergone feasibility and usability testing, and has been published in a peer-reviewed journal*.

A number of Honours and Masters projects are also underway to further innovate in the development and use of chatbot virtual clients such as Virtual Client Conversations, supervised by Dr Richard Leibbrandt, Lecturer in Computational Science.

*Oster, C., Leibbrandt, R., Schoo, A., Lange, B., Litt, J., Morello, A., Antonello, C., Powers, D., Maeder, A. & Lawn, S. (2022). A feasibility study of teaching Motivational Interviewing in a fully online environment using a virtual client. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, DOI: 10.1080/14635240.2022.2047095

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College of Medicine and Public Health College of Nursing and Health Sciences College of Science and Engineering