Improving capacity to identify, assess, and manage adolescents engaging in non-suicidal self-injury using patient avatars.

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Publication Title

Medical teacher


washington; seattle; swedish


PURPOSE: We developed and evaluated a training comprising a didactic and virtual practice session with human-guided patient avatars to increase pediatric residents' competence to identify and assess non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicide risk.

METHODS: Thirty pediatric residents at three children's hospitals in Florida participated in the training and completed pre-, one-month post-, and three-months post-training surveys. One-way repeated measures ANOVA with post-hoc comparisons determined changes in confidence, comfort, behavioral intentions, attitudes, knowledge, and behavior over time. Qualitative responses provided feedback on the training, especially the novel practice session with adolescent patient avatars.

RESULTS: Three-months post-training residents expressed significantly greater confidence in talking to adolescents who self-injure, applying the SOARS method to assess self-injury, and assessing functions/reasons for self-injury; reported feeling significantly more comfortable asking about self-injury, well-equipped to handle the emotional aspects of self-injury, and comfortable treating adolescents who self-injure; reported greater behavioral intentions to talk to adolescents about self-injury, assess an adolescent's stage of change for stopping self-injury, and provide brief interventions for adolescents who self-injure; and used SOARS to evaluate current NSSI with a greater proportion of adolescent patients. Qualitative feedback expressed positive perceptions, especially related to the virtual-reality role-play session.

CONCLUSIONS: Incorporating an interactive, human-guided virtual experience using role-playing and feedback with patient avatars represents a viable option comparable to using typical standardized patients to expand the scalability of NSSI trainings for pediatric residents, especially when they occur virtually.

Clinical Institute

Mental Health