The uses are many. At the University of Washington in Seattle, clinicians and researchers have deployed VR to teach mindfulness strategies to patients. Wearing VR headsets, patients can imagine themselves floating down a river, and they’re given instructions about where to train their focus.
Such immersion, says Hunter Hoffman, director of the VR Analgesia Research Center at the university’s Human Photonics Lab, makes it easier for patients to stay focused — a value that could translate to many facets of a lab or classroom.
“The nice thing about VR is that you’ve already captured the user’s attention,” Hoffman says. “Virtual reality is very attention-grabbing, and I think it lends itself to medical training. Attention and memory are closely related.”
On the flip side, the technology has potential to educate patients and reduce anxiety before major procedures. A VR app, Hoffman notes, could allow users to virtually experience preparations for the surgical process, offering a particular benefit to individuals who have attention deficit disorders or anxiety.
Preparing Medical Staff for the Proper Application of PPE
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has maintained a robust simulation program for a decade. Clinicians wear VR headsets from vendors such as Oculus and HTC to engage in a variety of learning activities.
More recently, the hospital has relied on less expensive headsets that work with clinicians’ smartphones so nurses and doctors can learn from home without having to share devices.
And the latest lessons have been critical: Physicians and nurses use VR modules to learn best practices for the use of personal protective equipment, an education that’s more nuanced than it might seem.
“If you touch one wrong thing, you risk infecting others in the hospital with COVID,” says Margo Minissian, executive director for nursing education at Cedars-Sinai. “It sounds elementary until you have to take it off and not contaminate yourself or anyone else.”
The VR modules have prepared staffers for in-person training upon their arrival at the hospital, adds Russell Metcalfe-Smith, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild Simulation Center. “There are specific steps for how to apply PPE — and, of course, how to remove it safely.”
The measures aren’t just reactionary. With an eye on new hurdles ahead, Cedars-Sinai has sent VR goggles home with a new cohort of graduating nurses to provide remote training during their residencies. “We need this technology to continue their education,” Minissian says. “Otherwise, we run the risk of a nursing shortage in the coming years.”
Cedars-Sinai leaders anticipate that COVID-19 will continue to spark wider adoption of VR in medical education. “Now that we are having to use the technology more, people are seeing the benefits of it,” says Metcalfe-Smith.
Adds Minissian, “Absolutely, I think this is our new wave.”