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Healthcare Communication Program

What are standardized patients (SPs)?

SPs are individuals that have been trained to simulate in a defined, consistent and standardized manner, a patient in a medical situation.

An SP is a person who portrays a patient so that someone can learn how to interact with that patient.

How do we utilize SPs?

We use SPs to see how well a student, resident, fellow or practicing provider can get information from a patient or do a physical exam, to let doctors’ practice difficult communication situations before having those conversations in the “real world,” to demonstrate a senior physician’s communication skills to learners and for other reasons.

The SP provides feedback to the learner based on the interaction. There is flexibility within the role of the SP depending on the need of the learner and the objectives of the educational activity. The SP could play a variety of roles, such as:

  • A patient
  • A patient instructor (specifically guiding a learner through a skill development, such as an abdominal exam)
  • A learner ally (providing information to the learner during a simulated encounter, like a trauma simulation)
  • A family member or friend of a patient
  • A healthcare provider (physician, nurse, etc.)

In addition, within these different roles, the SP can be utilized to educate and achieve a number of different objectives:

  • History taking skills
  • Physical exam skills
  • Communication skills
  • Examination skills
  • Ultrasound skills

Why do we use SPs?

The critical aspect of a Healthcare Communication Program is the ability to recreate a clinical setting in which the learner can practice their clinical and interpersonal skills with a “standardized patient.” The value of using SPs for these roles and teaching objectives is extremely high. An SP encounter provides the educator with a great deal of control over a clinical encounter.

What do we do in our Healthcare Communication Program?

Our Healthcare Communication Program encompasses a process that includes writing cases for standardized encounters, training SPs, developing assessment tools and providing the logistics/environment for the program. We currently have six standardized patient clinic rooms and we can simulation inpatient room settings in the Geisinger Education & Medical Simulation (GEMS) Center simulation space and a standardized patient flex pool. We develop sessions based on the needs of the learners and utilize several different learning formats including SP encounters for evaluation, small and large group coaching and feedback sessions. We have developed several cases but are constantly updating and developing new ones, some examples are listed below:

  • Standardized patients – We currently have 40 trained actors.
  • Relationship-centered communication faculty – We currently have over 30 faculty members trained in relationship-centered communication to coach and provide feedback during SP sessions.

What is the process for Healthcare Communication Program utilization?

If you are interested in communication skills training using standardized patients, contact Stephanie Long, program coordinator (MC 26-31), at

We will arrange a meeting with our team members and the requesting faculty member and administrator if appropriate. At this meeting, we will plan the details of your training session and begin to write the case or select one from our library.