Product Trial or Test Prep?

When sim tech vendors offer something for free, it’s because they have enough confidence that if you try it, you’ll buy it. We sim vendors want you simulationists, ranging from operations technologists to center directors, to sign up and give it a go! We even expect the competition to sign up for a bit of product espionage. We want the product to stand on its own two feet and win you over. But what happens when our most active users aren’t academic institutional employees, or our competitors? Who are they, and why are they signing up to interview our free patients? 

We launched our first free AI driven digital patient March of last year. He was a Covid-19 patient, he was built to understand and respond to all the Covid-19 screening questions healthcare providers were being trained to ask patients. He saw a lot of action in those first several months of the pandemic. He also convinced several institutions, with assistance of our VP of Sales Nick Stoick of course, to deploy PCS Spark during a time when campuses and simulation centers were closing and healthcare education was moving to an online distribution model. With the success of our Covid-19 Digital Patient, we decided to release two more free patients to ease the transition for institutions moving towards distance learning and those patients have been steadily active.

Recently, however, there’s been an uptick in activity which at first glance could not be explained. These users were conducting multiple interviews across all three free patients, with sessions lasting over 30 minutes and including over 150 clinical interview questions. This wasn’t our typical product trial use case by simulation center staff, who on average ask about 15 questions within 8 minutes: just enough to assure them the magic is real and that PCS Spark is legit, conversational AI. 

After further investigation we determined they were students! Students were signing up, logging in, and conducting clinical interviews on their own. Their institutions were not part of the PCS user family, these, mainly nursing students, somehow found us and started using the free patients as test prep. Well, I assume it was test prep as by comparison, the interviews were formal, and very similar to each other in style and structure. Having been a long time Standardized Patient myself, it looked akin to an OSCE/ assessment. During a weekly team meeting, I wondered aloud how students could have found us – we don’t engage learners directly on any medium, email, social media or ads. My colleague soon confirmed the students use a direct link (app.pcs.ai), perhaps they found us the ‘old fashioned way’: organic Google search.

I didn’t initially peg students to be advocates – or self advocates in this case – for PCS. Not because I didn’t believe they could be, but because based on my experience, simulation technologies are purchased in a top-down model, not a bottom-up model. Products are approved, demoed and purchased by Deans and Directors, not discovered, used and promoted by students. Maybe this will be the new trend? Further supporting evidence of this possible trend came just last week, when a first year medical student who is president of the emergency medicine club at her medical school invited PCS to duplicate the MCEP Winter Symposium event at her institution for her club, which included 20 of her peers….on a Friday night. It was an overwhelming success. 

With so many healthcare simulation technology products on the market, could it be that the more eyeballs, to now include student eyeballs, you have searching and evaluating, the more likely you are to find the right product fit? I’ve now been part of two healthcare simulation technology companies that have offered free trials of their software: CAE’s LearningSpace, and now PCS Spark. Some institutions will take full advantage of the free trials, while others may log in only once and make a decision, but this is the first time I’ve seen a groundswell of learners, unprompted and of their own volition, utilize a company’s free offering to augment their learning. 

Is this the start of a new trend, or simply a few zealous, overachieving Gen Z students? I suppose time will tell, but I know this is the type of healthcare provider I would want for myself and my family: the kind of learner who is driven to seek out new technologies to amplify their education.

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