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College of
Health Sciences

Healthcare Communication Program

What are standardized patients?

Standardized patients (SPs) are people who have been trained to simulate patients in medical situations in a defined, consistent and standardized manner. 

By portraying a patient, an SP helps others learn how to interact with patients. 

How do we use SPs?

We use SPs for a variety of reasons, including 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,” and to demonstrate a senior physician’s communication skills to learners. 

The SP gives feedback to the learner based on the interaction. The SP’s role is flexible, depending on the learner’s needs and the objectives of the educational activity. The role could encompass a variety of portrayals, 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 (e.g., physician, nurse)

In these different roles, the SP can educate on 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 our 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. SPs are valuable for these roles and teaching objectives, as they give the educator a great deal of control over a clinical encounter.

What do we do in our Healthcare Communication Program?

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

  • Standardized patients – We have a pool of 40 trained actors.
  • Relationship-centered communication faculty – More than 30 faculty members are trained in relationship-centered communication to coach and provide feedback during SP sessions.

What is the process for using the Healthcare Communication Program?

If you’re interested in communication skills training using standardized patients, contact Stephanie Long (MC 26-31)

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




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