Generative AI: ChatGPT enhances experiential learning in pharmacy

Training pharmacists for the future

By Milana Madzarac School of Pharmacy

ChatGPT, a language processing tool driven by artificial intelligence (AI), has been making headlines since its launch late last year.

Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy has already been utilizing a generative AI platform since early-2018 to enhance experiential learning for pharmacy professionals and students. Now, the School is looking to incorporate ChatGPT technology in that same platform.

"Initially I was a skeptic," says Dr. Jeff Nagge, a clinical associate professor at the School of Pharmacy. "I thought experiential face-to-face learning was by far the best way to do this type of training. After all these years of using generative AI, this form of training when designed properly seems to be at least as good or superior to the traditional learning path. We are now considering some research designs to test this hypothesis."

Nagge, alongside Marie Lippens, associate director of WatSPEED, Waterloo’s professional and continuing education hub, designed a professional development course called Management of Oral Anticoagulant Therapy (MOAT Online). The course uses a generative AI platform to teach pharmacists the principles of warfarin management.

Warfarin is a drug prescribed to patients with cardiovascular risks and is used to prevent blood clots. The medication has several drug interactions along with many lifestyle interactions that need to be monitored regularly and doses adjusted accordingly to ensure patient safety.

As a result, treating those with warfarin is complicated and requires hands-on learning for pharmacists.

Generative AI helps train pharmacists

In 2006, Nagge set up a specialized training anticoagulation clinic course to train pharmacists. This course was offered in two parts through WatSPEED. The first portion included online self-guided learning and the second portion required pharmacists to travel to Kitchener-Waterloo to spend three training days with Nagge in his anticoagulation clinic.

The cost and time to travel to Kitchener-Waterloo were difficult for many but important as the experiential learning portion is the most valuable portion of the course.

Nagge recognized that the need for generative AI-simulated patient interactions was crucial in offering the course to pharmacists and nurse practitioners across Canada. A partnership with Ametros Learning resulted in a virtual clinic where learners experience every type of patient scenario for warfarin management.

"This is a very controlled application of generative AI with program restraints and safeguards. When used appropriately this is one of the many ways AI can have a positive impact in education," Nagge says.

Nagge worked with Ametros developers to create eight diverse representations of AI patients that pharmacists may see in their own practice. Learners go through the scenarios to learn how to interact with patients and which questions to ask to manage warfarin doses.

"In a real-life clinic setting, the teaching depends on what patient walks through the doors," Nagge says. "With the software, I’ve created a roster of AI patients that present to the virtual clinic with the most commonly encountered situations a pharmacist will experience when managing warfarin therapy, to ensure that the learner is prepared for real-world scenarios."

Incorporating ChatGPT

The next phase of the virtual clinic is embedding a ChatGPT environment to enhance the current model.

"There were no issues with the older system, but ChatGPT will enhance the evaluation portion of the course," Nagge says. "It will recognize multiple ways a learner may phrase answers which enhances my ability to provide specific feedback."

An advanced robust discussion portion will allow for a streamlined approach and organic interaction that will help learners build more confidence in their practice. The conversation feature will be improved between the learner and the computer, with fewer lapses in communication.

Waterloo pharmacy students have been using the Ametros platform in their elective course, Management of Oral Anticoagulant Therapy (PHARM 467). Generative AI allows the students to learn in a safe environment to gain experience with dosing warfarin.

"The platform is such an immersive experience," Nagge says. "Ametros did a great job setting the program up for the students. It gives them practice before they go into the virtual testing environment, building their confidence for their future careers."

MOAT Online won the 2019 Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE) program award for exemplary work.