UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 11 | Sep.
5 , 2002
Patients from Cyberspace Invade Medical Curriculum
Simulation program is latest teaching tool
By Hilary Thomson
How can a patient have a multitude of complaints, be examined,
tested and undergo numerous surgical interventions without
setting foot in a doctor's office?
It's easy if you're CyberPatient, an interactive multimedia
web-based teaching tool created by Surgery Prof. Karim Qayumi.
The first of its kind in North America, it will be used by
UBC medical students this fall and will form a key part of
the faculty's interactive medical curriculum that is being
developed over the next two years.
"Nobody has come up with a holistic approach like this,"
says Qayumi. "UBC is a leader in this area of Intranet
Currently, CyberPatient teaches students how to treat 12
types of acute abdominal problems.
"I want to revolutionize how medicine is taught,"
says Qayumi, a faculty member since 1989. "Learning textbook
definitions of disease is approaching medicine backwards.
Students need to learn symptoms, define causes and then diagnose."
Qayumi started building the program in 1998 with the help
of his now 26-year-old son, Tarique, who was studying at UBC
Qayumi's vision of a tool to teach practical medicine and
his son's computer abilities yielded simulation software that
combines the elements of video game, tutorials and 'hands-on'
After two years of development and a copyright on the program,
Qayumi and partners in Japanese medical schools researched
the effectiveness of the program compared to traditional textbook
learning. They measured the academic performance of 140 students.
The research showed that the program significantly boosted
performance of students who were struggling with textbook
"This program is a major breakthrough for medical schools
using problem-based learning," says Qayumi. "Students
can learn anywhere, anytime. That makes the most of our scarce
teaching resources." In addition, the flexibility of
the program allows it to be adapted for continuing medical
Functional on any computer or laptop, CyberPatient is accessed
with a password that takes the student to an on-screen cyber-hospital.
Sounds of sirens and ambulance dispatchers are broadcast as
the screen zooms the viewer in to an emergency ward.
A menu of fictional patient names pops up and by selecting
one, the student is led step- by-step through patient care
- from the first symptoms through history taking, examination,
diagnostic tests, lab results, surgery and post-operative
CyberPatient's level of detail is impressive. When the student
tests the patient's blood pressure, each click of the mouse
inflates the cuff on the arm of the animated patient and the
level of the on-screen blood pressure gauge moves up millimetre
Stethoscope exams not only guide students to the right spot
but also provide the sound that would be heard through the
instrument. If surgery is required, the student uses the mouse
to pick up the correct surgical instrument to make an incision.
The on-screen patient then opens up to show an anatomically
accurate landscape of internal organs - a job that can take
animators involved in the project up to six months to produce.
After the patient's file is closed the student reports to
a cyber head of surgery who asks questions about the case.
Every right answer is reinforced with the response "That's
correct, doctor - good work." Errors earn a negative
response or 'punishment' as in a video game.
The student receives a score on their performance.
Qayumi is developing CyberPatient to include additional disease
pathologies and surgical problems.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.