Why is Virtual Reality a great opportunity for Healthcare Training?

If you are responsible for the skills and performance of healthcare staff in your organization, I probably don’t need to tell you how important it is, and what impact it may have on the lives of patients, on the quality and efficiency of your service, and of the business risks of unskilled staff.
Healthcare practice requires gaining many skills, habits, knowledge, and a certain mindset and discipline. A lot of effort and resources are directed towards this goal in healthcare organizations. However, having a real impact on the behaviour of your employees is not always an easy task. Moreover, over time, the effect of training and awareness campaigns that you run is likely to wear off.
Virtual Reality training offers several significant benefits to healthcare and medical staff training.
First, as research has shown, VR has a very strong and lasting impact on people’s behaviours. By making people see the immediate consequences of correct or incorrect behaviour, you create a visual and physical memory of actions and reactions.

Virtual Reality training also allows you to prepare people for critical situations without actually putting their patients or themselves in danger. Thus, for example, you can train employees better for identifying and providing the correct critical treatment in accidents or events of multiple casualties.
Another great opportunity in the context of healthcare is to show physicians and nurses how things work from “within”. This could be relevant to biological mechanisms, as well as medical interventions and equipment.
In addition – Virtual Reality can reduce the cost of healthcare training. It may save travel costs to other locations (e.g. a simulation centre), reduce the operational costs of physical training facilities and equipment, and allow more people to be trained repeatedly and remotely with marginal extra cost.
The fact that actions in Virtual Reality can be recorded and used for reviewing, debriefing and reporting offer new opportunities for healthcare training data analytics and insights.

Obviously, Virtual Reality cannot (and shouldn’t) replace all the training required to prepare the healthcare workforce, but it offers exciting new opportunities with powerful impact & substantial business value.
To help you get started, I share below several examples where Virtual Reality can open new horizons for healthcare training in organizations.

Choosing the right application of VR for Healthcare Training

Your first key decision when considering the use of Virtual Reality (or VR) for training healthcare staff should be about choosing the right application for such a project.
While this is true for every training activity, it is especially so when dealing with a new technology and learning methodology that people are less familiar with, and for which you need to prove the ROI in a first project.
By choosing the correct opportunity, you’ll be increasing your chances of success and of demonstrating real impact and value for employees, managers and for the business.

Use the indicative list below identify a good candidate opportunity for healthcare training with VR. It is safe to assume that not all items will match any particular opportunity, but you should aim to have at least 2 on your list:

  • Critical Incident or Key Skill involved
  • Costly or complex current solution
  • Involves interactions (with humans and/or equipment)
  • Requires tracking, certification & reporting (e.g. for Regulatory requirements)
  • Is about changing BEHAVIORS!

3 applications you should be looking into

To help you identify favourable potential opportunities for using Virtual Reality for healthcare training, I have collected key insights from our experience of applying Virtual Reality for training and of 30 years of having developed and implemented innovative learning technologies.
For each application, I include the major advantages of using VR for this type of challenge, some key points to keep in mind if you want to do it right, and a few implementation notes to help you make it successful.

Use Case 1: Measuring and Diagnosis

Why Virtual Reality?

Obviously, correct diagnosis is the starting point for every good medical treatment. You want your medical and nursing staff to collect all the data they should from the various sources, record it and use it to come up with the likely diagnosis. Yet, it is not always easy to simulate and train people to do this correctly.

Virtual Reality lets you create a scenario which is very close to the actual procedure, and build staff’s ability to perform the measurement correctly, interview patients, and identify the key information in such situations.
It is much more effective than using 2D images, slides or video. It trains them to discover and follow the process in a life-like setting. At the same time, it is easier to do than live simulations with actors.

Doing it right

  • As with many other healthcare applications, introducing Virtual Human avatars into the scenario is a key to creating realistic measurement and diagnosis session
  • Combine various data sources as appropriate – e.g. vital signs, patient audio description of symptoms, use of scanning equipment, etc.
  • Make sure you track the learner’s success, provide timely feedback, show (rather than “explain”) the consequences, and analyze users’ behaviour and achievements for important insights
  • Plan to build the scenarios so that different cases can be used – e.g. patients of different ages, varying symptoms, changing of vital signs, and so on

Implementation Notes

 Try to strike a balance between following a realistic and full procedure, and between focusing mainly on the key skills of measurement & diagnosis – especially the ones that can be shown in Virtual Reality

Use Case 2: Operating Medical Equipment

Why Virtual Reality?

While this use case may also be relevant to other operational training outside of the Healthcare field, it is especially useful for operating and practising the use of medical equipment.
Virtual Reality lets you create a scenario which is very close to the actual procedure, and build staff’s ability to perform the measurement correctly, interview patients, and identify the key information in such situations.

It can save you the costs of using real equipment and allows drilling staff in unique situations (such as rare illnesses, equipment malfunction).
You can also show how equipment operation is part of the general workflow – interviewing (a virtual) patient, using safety measures, following treatment protocol, using the equipment, etc. In such a case, you are training for the use of the equipment in the context of performance, and not just as a technical task.

Doing it right

  • Focus on choosing the correct equipment for the task, on using it in the correct order and on applying it for the purpose it is meant.
  • To add realism, audio may be useful in an equipment environment – but make sure it’s not too overbearing to cause discomfort.
  • Consider when you’d like to let the trainees realize they have made a mistake and put them back on track. VR is a great opportunity to let them “suffer the consequences” of the wrong usage – for instance simulating wrong diagnosis or the patient getting hurt. It will create strong emotional impact.

Implementation Notes

  • In this use case, in particular, a good approach may be planning the VR training as part of a wider learning blend – alongside classroom training, on the job practice, and more theoretical reading materials and videos.

Use Case 3: Working in a Medical Team

Why Virtual Reality?

Many of the medical interventions require coordinated work with other team members. It may be a medical emergency response team arriving at a scene, a team of doctors and nurses performing an operation, or simply work that requires communication and coordination between members.

With VR you may create groups of people who are connecting from remote locations, as well as add more characters with virtual PC controlled avatars. The trainer may also have greater control, tracking and visibility as to the actions of team members.

Doing it right

  • Allowing different modes of control for the trainer is a great plus. These could be, for instance, allowing a trainer to make team members follow a tour the trainer guides, or alternatively to allow them to move freely in the scene.
  • Team members may also “step inside” the views of other characters, thus making them understand how the action looks from the different point of view (think of a doctor “seeing” a replay of how they talked to the virtual patient from the patient’s point of view).

Implementation Notes

  • Team practice in Virtual Reality is usually more complex than single player missions. I recommend thinking about team virtual reality after you’ve already implemented other VR projects successfully, or as an optional, more advanced level.

(Virtual) Reality Check – can we use VR for Healthcare Training?

Now that you’ve read some of the considerations, and got a taste of the possibilities through the selected use cases, WHAT DO YOU THINK about Virtual Reality in healthcare training:

  1. Does it offer any unique value as compared to other training methods?
  2. Are there any other use cases you can think of for VR in Healthcare training?
  3. What should we do to prepare implementing such solutions in healthcare organizations?


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