KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As everything moves into the virtual realm, University of Tennessee professors are rolling with the punches. They’ve developed a new learning tool that allows students pursuing medical professions to simulate virtual doctors visits.

With everything moving to online, UT professors have developed a new app to help prepare their future healthcare providers to do their jobs virtually if needed.

The idea started with a case of pink eye. Dr. Lisa Merritt — Clinical Assistant Professor in the college of nursing — had virtual doctors visit of her own, and the physician was able to diagnose her without physically seeing her.

“I thought, this is really going to take off at some point because it’s just so convenient for patients, can improve access to care. So I thought, how can I develop something to give students experience with this type of thing,” Merritt said.

She wrote a prototype and called on the help of Dr. Xueping li — a professor of engineering at the university. The V-Visit Sim app was born.

Dr. Li was able to build the app with the help of students from the college of Agriculture and Design.

The app uses keywords to help guide the student to the correct diagnosis. Students will have the ability to simulate a complete patient visit. They can chat with the patient, ask questions and receive pictures. There are several different simulations from pediatric patients, to adults, to mental health patients.

Dr. Li and his team have been working on the app for over a year. It is now in the beta phase and ready for testing and research.

It’s a tool nursing school senior Sarah LaRoe is grateful to have as she prepares to enter the workforce.

“I don’t know that every program is lucky enough to have an opportunity to practice a virtual visit which is really where healthcare is going in a lot of areas. So this app is really going to give us the opportunity to really practice those important questions, what do you need to be asking and see pictures and really diagnose based on your history and the pictures that you see because you’re not able to do that physical exam,” LaRoe said.

Nursing students will be able to test the app starting in January.

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