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Kiwi EdTech software innovation goes international

19 Jul 2019

Real-time decision making equals empowered students. That is the essence of SimPHARM, a state of the art simulation tool developed at the University of Otago and now commercially licensed by a United States-based company to help pharmacy students learn via a realistic clinical experience.

Education Management Solutions has announced ground-breaking new virtual gaming platform for pharmacy and clinical therapeutics education.

It is built on mathematical models of the physiology of body systems that simulate real-life reactions to diseases and drugs. This allows the student to sense and feel the consequences of their decisions.

SimPHARM is being officially launched at an American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) event in Chicago this week. It’s a significant milestone for Professor Stephen Duffull of Otago’s School of Pharmacy.

“To see this tool reach the commercial stage is definitely a capstone of my career as SimPHARM combines both my research expertise and my passion as a teacher, so to think SimPHARM will be used by students of pharmacy across the world is extremely humbling as well as exciting,” Professor Duffull says.

Teachers assign a student or a whole class a virtual patient to treat. Because SimPHARM operates on a dynamic learning algorithm, every student who runs the case will experience it differently. 

SimPHARM’s clinical pharmacology simulation software is an ideal training solution for both undergraduate and postgraduate pharmacy education programs.

Professor Duffull describes SimPHARM as a “disruptive innovation” insofar as it is a new educational tool that has not been experienced in pharmacy training before. 

It puts the student in the driver’s seat to challenge themselves and learn through experience. Early results from School of Pharmacy students at the University of Otago have shown excellent engagement when using SimPHARM in a flipped class where students are assigned a virtual patient to treat before attending class, similar to (but more exciting than) pre-reading requirements.

“We’re noticing that over 95% of students are engaging with virtual patients from SimPHARM before their class modules begin,” Duffull adds.

“That is a great result and means the vast majority of our students are coming well-prepared with knowledge and skills that reflect their developing decision-making skills. These are skills that they have learnt from SimPHARM that closely emulate what they will eventually experience in the real world.”

SimPHARM is a web-based program that can be accessed on tablets, laptops or personal computers.

Cases (virtual patients) are chosen to suit each student’s stage of learning, and range from very simple medical ailments through to more intricate and complex cases that reflect the complexity of pharmacy practice.

Professor Duffull began developing SimPHARM in 2007. From a theoretical concept, SimPHARM has progressed with the University of Otago’s development and commercialisation company Otago Innovation Limited investing time, money and expertise to steer the commercialisation process over the last decade. 

“Otago Innovation’s investment of time, money and expertise has been crucial in getting SimPHARM to the open market,” Duffull says.

Along with assisting in SimPHARM’s technical development, Otago Innovation identified and engaged with 26 potential partners in the health simulation sector in order to make SimPHARM commercially viable. 

United States-based company Education Management Solutions (EMS) were identified as the best fit. 

EMS signed a license agreement for SimPHARM in 2016 and is now responsible for the marketing and sales of SimPHARM worldwide.

"We are excited to partner with industry innovator Professor Duffull and the University of Otago," says EMS president and CEO Anurag Singh. 

"With this partnership, we've established a new standard for pharmacy education that effectively prepares students for real-world clinical practice. SimPHARM fulfils a known demand for flipped classroom learning in pharmacy, medical, and nursing education. The solution is a welcome addition to EMS' comprehensive suite of simulation management and virtual training technologies for clinical education."

Professor Duffull says while the launch is a fantastic milestone to reach, the SimPHARM program will be enhanced and updated continually to add further scope. 

He also believes it will be valuable for collaborative learning; e.g students of medicine working on a case alongside a student of pharmacy, or as a standalone tool in other disciplines.