‘Virtual patient’ may save real lives (video)


The rate of suicide has risen 25 percent in the U.S. over the last decade. The recent debate over gun control has drawn attention to the fact that suicides by firearm outnumber homicides by firearm in most years.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students, and third for all 15- to 24-year-olds, so it’s more important than ever for physicians to be able to assess the suicide risk in young patients.

“Denise’’ may help young doctors do just that.

Created at the University of Florida, Denise is a “virtual patient’’ who is seeking care for a mood disorder.

A Medical College of Georgia study of second-year medical students is helping determine if the opportunity to ask tough questions about suicide risk to a virtual patient can help real families avoid this tragedy. Researchers hypothesize that students who interact with Denise will be better able to assess suicide risk in real patients

“We hope this approach will help future practitioners deal with really difficult issues such as suicide, psychosis, anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Adriana Foster, psychiatrist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.

Here is a GHN video interview, courtesy of GRU, with Foster, who discusses suicide prevalence, the warning signs of suicide, and the experiment with Denise.