Skip Rizzo, Thomas Parsons, Patrick Kenny, John Galen Buckwalter: “A new generation of intelligent virtual patients for clinical training”

March 21, 2010 | Waltham, MA

Speaker: Skip Rizzo, Thomas Parsons, Patrick Kenny, John Galen Buckwalter
Host: IEEE Virtual Reality 2010 Conference

Over the last 15 years, a virtual revolution has taken place in the use of Virtual Reality simulation technology for clinical purposes. Recent shifts in the social and scientific landscape have now set the stage for the next major movement in Clinical Virtual Reality with the “birth” of intelligent virtual humans. Seminal research and development has appeared in the creation of highly interactive, artificially intelligent and natural language capable virtual human agents that can engage real human users in a credible fashion. No longer at the level of a prop to add context or minimal faux interaction in a virtual world, virtual human representations can be designed to perceive and act in a 3D virtual world, engage in face-to-face spoken dialogues with real users (and other virtual humans) and in some cases, they are capable of exhibiting human-like emotional reactions. This paper will present a brief rationale and overview of their use in clinical training and then detail our work developing and evaluating artificially intelligent virtual humans for use as virtual standardized patients in clinical training with novice clinicians. We also discuss a new project that uses a virtual human as an online guide for promoting access to psychological healthcare information and for assisting military personnel and family members in breaking down barriers to initiating care. While we believe that the use of virtual humans to serve the role of virtual therapists is still fraught with both technical and ethical concerns, we have had success in the initial creation of virtual humans that can credibly mimic the content and interaction of a patient with a clinical disorder for training purposes. As technical advances continue, this capability is expected to have a significant impact on how clinical training is conducted in psychology and medicine.