Online patient simulations (OPS) are a novel method for teaching clinical reasoning skills to students and could contribute to reducing diagnostic errors. However, little is known about how best to implement and evaluate OPS in medical curricula. The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility, acceptability and potential effects of eCREST — the electronic Clinical Reasoning Educational Simulation Tool.
A feasibility randomised controlled trial was conducted with final year undergraduate students from three UK medical schools in academic year 2016/2017 (cohort one) and 2017/2018 (cohort two). Student volunteers were recruited in cohort one via email and on teaching days, and in cohort two eCREST was also integrated into a relevant module in the curriculum. The intervention group received three patient cases and the control group received teaching as usual; allocation ratio was 1:1. Researchers were blind to allocation. Clinical reasoning skills were measured using a survey after 1 week and a patient case after 1 month.
Across schools, 264 students participated (18.2% of all eligible). Cohort two had greater uptake (183/833, 22%) than cohort one (81/621, 13%). After 1 week, 99/137 (72%) of the intervention and 86/127 (68%) of the control group remained in the study. eCREST improved students’ ability to gather essential information from patients over controls (OR = 1.4; 95% CI 1.1–1.7, n = 148). Of the intervention group, most (80/98, 82%) agreed eCREST helped them to learn clinical reasoning skills.
eCREST was highly acceptable and improved data gathering skills that could reduce diagnostic errors. Uptake was low but improved when integrated into course delivery. A summative trial is needed to estimate effectiveness.