SIMmersion Helps Doctors Learn How to Talk with Teens about Marijuana

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How would things change if doctors learned how to leverage teenagers’ own concerns about the health effects of marijuana? Beginning in August, doctors can practice talking to a teen about marijuana 24 hours a day.

I’m proud that SIMmersion has been able to create realistic virtual patients who are available whenever healthcare professionals have time to improve their skills

David is in 10th grade, active in school sports teams and wants to go to college, but his grades have been falling since he started smoking marijuana with his friends. In August, pediatricians everywhere will have the opportunity to talk about marijuana with David, a virtual patient brought to life by SIMmersion LLC’s PeopleSim® technology. The new simulation, “Talking to Adolescent Patients about Health Risk Behaviors” will be available for free at SIMmersion’s Training Center.

To keep the simulation fresh, David’s attitude and frequency of marijuana use will vary from conversation to conversation. The doctor must determine how to deal with the new circumstances in each conversation. SIMmersion’s PeopleSim® technology uses a patented emotional model and non-branching logic to construct studio-quality audio and video of a professional actor into a conversation that is never the same twice. Because PeopleSim® uses real humans rather than avatars, SIMmersion’s technology trains users to process the full range of human communication, both verbal and nonverbal, and engages the user’s emotions, enhancing the impact of training. An on-screen coach gives immediate feedback to users, and after action reviews help users improve their performance in the future.

The web-based conversation with David is funded by the Blending Initiative, a joint project of The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Blending Initiative seeks to reduce the gap between research results and treatment delivery. Three decades of research suggest doctors who use the techniques of motivational interviewing are much more likely to help patients devise a plan to stop using drugs, stick to the plan, and feel like they are collaborating with their doctors rather than following orders.

“It can be easy to assume that what works for adults can simply scale down unchanged for teens or children,” says Ben Allen-Kingsland, lead writer for SIMmersion’s two Blending Initiative simulations. “The experts who supported this project helped us understand how talking to a teen had to be different than talking an adult. Their feedback, and the recordings they were able to share from MI sessions with real teens, led us to a simulation with its own authentic character.”

SIMmersion has previous experience working with the Blending Initiative to help doctors incorporate motivational interviewing (MI) techniques, creating the simulated adult patient Tony Frazier for the module “Talking to Patients about Health Risk Behaviors.” To learn and rehearse MI techniques, practitioners can talk about cocaine with Tony Frazier in simulation, available for free to providers everywhere on SIMmersion’s Training Center (

“I’m proud that SIMmersion has been able to create realistic virtual patients who are available whenever healthcare professionals have time to improve their skills,” says Dale Olsen, SIMmersion’s CEO. “We’re looking forward to doing more to improve patient outcomes in the future.”

About SIMmersion

SIMmersion’s mission is to train communication skills faster and more effectively by combining the world's most realistic simulated experiences with highly interactive training content and extensive user feedback. For more information, contact SIMmersion online or at 443-283-2555.

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Dale Olsen
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