Training healthcare professionals comes with unique challenges. How do you ensure that medics are up-to-speed with the latest technology and techniques when there’s often limited access to new equipment, and it’s not possible to practise on real-life patients? Virtual Reality (VR) could provide the answer. The VR experts at Immerse are creating detailed simulations to upskill healthcare professionals. And immersive, effective training doesn’t just mean better-trained employees, it also means increased engagement, improving staff retention in a sector that’s struggling with understaffing.

How tech is reshaping healthcare

There’s a technology revolution underway in healthcare training. Cutting-edge tools and techniques are changing the way training is delivered, from students watching live-streamed operations by experienced surgeons, to nurses learning how to deal with aggressive patients through VR simulations. And VR is being used in other healthcare contexts too; it’s been shown to be effective as pain relief, redirecting a patient’s attention away from treatment by engrossing them in an alternative experience or game.

The possibilities of VR for healthcare are exciting and far-reaching. And this technology couldn’t come at a better time: the NHS is the UK’s biggest employer, but with A&E admissions continuing to rise and Brexit putting pressure on staffing, cost-effective training and staff engagement and retention are critical.

X-ray training

Consistency is key when it comes to training medics, but ensuring that all staff are getting the same experience and reaching the same standard when the workforce is huge and dispersed is a challenge. Plus, access to state-of-the-art equipment is often limited, making hands-on training difficult. The right use of VR can mean that healthcare employees are trained on new techniques and technologies in an efficient, cost-effective way.

The VR training developed by Immerse for GE Healthcare is a great example of this. CTCA scanning is a non-invasive, x-ray based technique for detecting patients at a high risk of acute heart problems. However, it’s a relatively new technique and only a small number of professionals are trained in it. And because it can only be performed using modern CT equipment, there are currently only 228 scanners capable of doing it in the UK.

Immerse developed a training program for radiographers that simulated hands-on experience of completing CTCA scans. The simulation offers various play-through modules and patient types, with first-time users given a brief tutorial, and then directed to start in the fully guided ‘learn’ mode with the ‘textbook patient’. Users can make mistakes in a safe environment, and they have 24/7 access to the tool, reducing the need for onsite training.

Medical professionals can have the same experience no matter where they’re based at whatever time they’re available, and employers can be sure that all staff are receiving the same level of training.

The engagement story

Good VR is truly engaging and immersive: the participant is involved completely in the simulation, with little chance for distraction. Gamification can add another element of engagement, with competition elements encouraging staff to revisit training modules to hone their skills and improve their scores. And with an increase in engagement comes higher levels of information retention, which is particularly important in a sector like healthcare.

Radiographers’ reactions to Immerse’s CTCA training show that the VR scenarios were both engaging and effective: many in-training radiographers reported on the ease-of-use and the detail of the simulation, with trainees saying that they felt ‘right at home’ after spending time in the simulation.

The engagement benefits also reach beyond the training itself. Staff who find their company’s training enjoyable show higher levels of engagement with their role and with their organisation in general.

Delving into data

The effectiveness of training programs has historically been hard to measure, but technology like this changes things completely. VR training programs can capture huge amounts of data, helping employers to track progress, measure outcomes, and tailor future training.

The depth and complexity of the data available is ever-increasing, with the potential to use eye-tracking software, biometric technology and even brainwave monitoring in VR training environments. Data can be collected on both an aggregated and an individual level, helping to personalise training to individual users.

This has exciting implications for healthcare training. In the CTCA training program, for example, all actions within the VR space are tracked in real time, enabling instant review and feedback. In the future, this data capture could mean that the program could be developed into a more formalised assessment tool.

New horizons for healthcare training

Across many sectors, business leaders are realising the possibilities that VR offers for staff training. Improved training doesn’t just mean upskilled staff, but can also mean better staff engagement and retention. VR also shows true potential in improving both safety and efficiency across the healthcare sector. As the CTCA scanning example demonstrates, using a realistic VR training simulation offers both financial and logistical benefits. It addresses the issues with the current restrictions on training, and provides long term cost saving on sustained training programs. In-situ beta tests at various hospitals are currently planned through 2019. When it comes to VR in healthcare training, the possibilities are endless and there is no doubt expectations will be exceeded.