Original Article

Suicide risk assessment training using an online virtual patient simulation

Kimberly H. McManama O’Brien, Shai Fuxman, Laura Humm, Nicole Tirone, Warren Jay Pires, Andrea Cole, Julie Goldstein Grumet


Background: Improving the identification of and intervention with patients at risk for suicide requires innovative training techniques that safely and effectively teach or enhance practitioners’ skills. Virtual patient simulations (VPS) can be particularly effective for this purpose because they allow for repetition in skill building as well as a safe space to practice difficult interactions with patients. The purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility and acceptability of a novel VPS that trains practitioners in suicide risk assessment, as well as to examine pre-post changes in suicide-related knowledge through a pilot of the VPS training.
Methods: Practitioners (n=20) were recruited from a Federally Qualified Health Center in the northeastern United States to test the feasibility and acceptability of a VPS suicide risk assessment training. A paired samples t-test was conducted to compare mean differences in practitioners’ suicide risk assessment knowledge scores from pre- to post-training, on a scale of 0 to 10.
Results: The VPS was feasible to implement, with 18 of 20 participants using the VPS for an average of 21 to 95 minutes, and was acceptable to participants, with an average satisfaction rating of 5.82 out of 7. Participants’ knowledge scores improved significantly by an average of 1.86 points from pre- to post-training.
Conclusions: The VPS was feasible and acceptable to this sample of practitioners and significantly increased knowledge from pre- to post-training. As such, VPS holds promise as a technique to develop skills in suicide risk assessment.

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