Open Access Software

Casebook: a virtual patient iPad application for teaching decision-making through the use of electronic health records

Marcus D Bloice1*, Klaus-Martin Simonic1 and Andreas Holzinger12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Medical Informatics, Statistics, and Documentation, Medical University of Graz, Auenbruggerplatz 2, Graz 8036, Austria

2 Institute of Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Inffeldgasse 16c, Graz 8010, Austria

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2014, 14:66  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-14-66

Published: 7 August 2014



Virtual Patients are a well-known and widely used form of interactive software used to simulate aspects of patient care that students are increasingly less likely to encounter during their studies. However, to take full advantage of the benefits of using Virtual Patients, students should have access to multitudes of cases. In order to promote the creation of collections of cases, a tablet application was developed which makes use of electronic health records as material for Virtual Patient cases. Because electronic health records are abundantly available on hospital information systems, this results in much material for the basis of case creation.


An iPad-based Virtual Patient interactive software system was developed entitled Casebook. The application has been designed to read specially formatted patient cases that have been created using electronic health records, in the form of X-ray images, electrocardiograms, lab reports, and physician notes, and present these to the medical student. These health records are organised into a timeline, and the student navigates the case while answering questions regarding the patient along the way. Each health record can also be annotated with meta-information by the case designer, such as insight into the thought processes and the decision-making rationale of the physician who originally worked with the patient. Students learn decision-making skills by observing and interacting with real patient cases in this simulated environment. This paper discusses our approach in detail.


Our group is of the opinion that Virtual Patient cases, targeted at undergraduate students, should concern patients who exhibit prototypical symptoms of the kind students may encounter when beginning their first medical jobs. Learning theory research has shown that students learn decision-making skills best when they have access to multitudes of patient cases and it is this plurality that allows students to develop their illness scripts effectively. Casebook emphasises the use of pre-existing electronic health record data as the basis for case creation, thus, it is hoped, making it easier to produce cases in larger numbers. By creating a Virtual Patient system where cases are built from abundantly available electronic health records, collections of cases can be accumulated by institutions.

Electronic health records; Decision-making; Diagnostic reasoning