Simulated patients and their reality: An inquiry into theory and method

Veena Das, Benjamin Daniels, Ada Kwan, Vaibhav Saria, Ranendra Das, Madhukar Pai, Jishnu Das

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Simulated standardized patients (SSP) have emerged as close to a ‘gold standard’ for measuring the quality of clinical care. This method resolves problems of patient mix across healthcare providers and allows care to be benchmarked against preexisting standards. Nevertheless, SSPs are not real patients. How, then, should data from SSPs be considered relative to clinical observations with ‘real’ patients in a given health system? Here, we reject the proposition that SSPs are direct substitutes for real patients and that the validity of SSP studies therefore relies on their ability to imitate real patients. Instead, we argue that the success of the SSP methodology lies in its counterfactual manipulations of the possibilities available to real careseekers – especially those paths not taken up by them – through which real responses can be elicited from real providers. Using results from a unique pilot study where SSPs returned to providers for follow-ups when asked, we demonstrate that the SSP method works well to elicit responses from the provider through conditional manipulations of SSP behavior. At the same time, observational methods are better suited to understand what choices real people make, and how these can affect the direction of diagnosis and treatment. A combination of SSP and observational methods can thus help parse out how quality of care emerges for the “patient” as a shared history between care-seeking individuals and care providers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114571
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 05-2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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