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Virtual reality gives better understanding

Torbay Hospital is using virtual reality technology to help improve clinicians’ understanding of what it is like to be a patient.
Virtual reality (VR) was pioneered in France last year for use as a surgical training tool, but it is believed that Torbay Hospital is the first to use it as a training tool to better understand the effects that communication, compassion, teamwork, equipment and workspace have on clinical performance and on the quality of experience a patient receives.
Nick Peres, who developed the project and is the hospital’s lead for learning technologies, said: “Patients can sometimes be overwhelmed by what is happening around them, and the PatientVR concept is about placing doctors, nurses and other frontline staff in the patient’s shoes.
“For some time, our clinical skills team has been using mannequins in staff training and although the mannequins can blink, breath, bleed and speak, they cannot portray what the patient feels or sees.
“I started to look at how we could use virtual reality to help represent the patient voice in medical education and training.”
Nick has shot a VR film of a mock patient who is experiencing chest pains. It follows their journey from ambulance to Emergency Department and on to theatre.
Medical professionals can watch this footage using a VR headset, and afterwards staff will discuss the environment, the patient’s state of mind, staff actions and interactions, and how all of these could affect the patient experience.
The PatientVR project team plans to use the low-cost equipment to film several different medical and non-medical scenarios.
Dr Kyle Stewart, medical senior house officer, said: “For the first time, virtual reality technology allows me to become the patient and feel what is like to be in their shoes.
“I immediately felt the emotions and concerns of being a patient in a pressured situation, and began to appreciate how a clinician’s actions can affect the patient’s state of mind. PatientVR provides a unique opportunity for healthcare professionals to empathise with their patients and improve the patient experience.”
Torbay Hospital is also looking into the possibility of developing PatientVR so it can review and design environments from a patient perspective. This could then be used by nervous patients as a trial run before their procedure.