Virtual patients will help train future medics

Tuesday, 02 June 2020

Experts from the University of Nottingham and Isabel Healthcare will create an online learning platform enabling medical students and junior doctors to develop essential skills, even without face-to-face time with patients, thanks to funding from Innovate UK.

The funding will allow experts to create a learning platform using a unique combination of virtual cases and AI powered clinical decision support technology, that will help them to develop the knowledge, problem-solving and decision-making skills they need.

The need for this technology has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, as enforced social distancing in the UK has significantly cut the amount of training time in the workplace for healthcare professionals. Without enough preparation, new doctors and nurses risk entering work unprepared and lacking core skills.

The movement of all higher education exclusively online across all UK medical schools in response to the pandemic has also exposed the lack of quality online learning resources for developing complex problem-solving and decision-making skills.

This new technology, known as the Isabel-EPIFFANY platform, not only has the potential to address the immediate training gap, but it could also transform the way knowledge and skills among medical students and junior doctors are developed over time.

The ‘virtual’ cases on the platform will be made by combining data from three different sources; symptoms and signs reported by real patients; artificial intelligence in the form of a clinical decision-support technology; and the expertise of clinicians.

The result is a new way of delivering online learning at scale, allowing healthcare professionals in training exposure to a far greater number of clinical case problems than would be available in any single workplace setting.

Another advantage of eLearning is that platforms can automate the creation of thousands of virtual patients, as well as automate the assessment of performance of healthcare professionals on those cases as well.

The project brings together a clinical decision-support technology company - Isabel Healthcare, with experts from the Schools of Medicine and Psychology at the University of Nottingham, Health Education, and NHS England’s Academic Health Science Networks.

An existing ‘proof-of-concept’ beta-version of the eLearning platform without clinical decision support technology was developed by Isabel, and enhanced in 2019 by the team at Nottingham.

The project will consolidate that partnership, and transform the previous beta version into a fully functioning working prototype of the platform embedded with the clinical decision support technology and capable of generating virtual patient cases.

For healthcare professionals, identifying what is wrong with a patient and knowing what to do about it, are probably the two most important things we do. The Isabel-EPIFFANY virtual patient platform allows users to practice these skills and get feedback on their performance from experts. I’m really pleased with the award of this grant since it’s come at a time when face-to-face contact with patients is extremely limited so it’s really needed by medical students and other healthcare professionals’.”
Dr Rakesh Patel, Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Education at the University of Nottingham, and lead researcher on this project

Dr Christopher Madan, Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology at the University added: “This grant will help us bridge from fundamental research into memory and decision making into medical education and clinical reasoning, improving how we train our healthcare professionals.”

Jason Maude, CEO and Founder of Isabel Healthcare said “We are very proud to have received this grant from Innovate which has come at just the right time to enable us and our partners to develop a promising beta product into a working prototype that could have a significant impact on medical education over the next few years. ”

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Rakesh Patel from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, at

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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