NHS Rolls Out Virtual Reality To Remind Clinicians How Scary Being A Patient Can Be


In an effort to improve compassion and bedside manner among its clinicians, executives at South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust in England have turned to an innovative team of software developers that have created a first-person virtual reality simulation of a patient’s experience. The new system was developed by Nick Peres, a PhD student and former video production specialist researching virtual reality applications in healthcare with South Devon’s innovation team.

Initially, Peres was working with a team focused on building an enhanced mannequin that could blink, breathe, bleed, and speak. The goal of that project was to develop a more realistic training tool for medical staff. Before long, however, Peres began wondering how he might incorporate his skill set as a video production specialist into the challenge. Virtual reality stood out to him as an ideal tool to improve medical education, he explains "We use these mannequins, but we still have no idea how the patient feels or what they see. It seemed quite obvious to me what technology could help us do this."

The new system, called PatientVR, runs on an Oculus Rift headset and follows the story of a patient being brought to the ER with chest pain symptoms. Starting in an ambulance, the patient is stabilized, examined, and then told he is having a heart attack before being rolled into the operating room where surgeons quickly explain the risk associated with the procedure he is about to undergo. The video, which is only seven minutes long, does an excellent job capturing the patient’s perspective of care delivery as the situation unfolds.

To capture the scene, Peres donned seven GoPro cameras and played the part of the patient himself. He then took the video footage and edited it together to create an immersive 3D experience. The platform is being piloted at Torbay hospital, the largest hospital within the South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust organization. Tod Guest, an anesthesiologist at Torbay, was one of the first clinicians to pilot the new system, he says "It reinforces the need to be sensitive to the patient’s needs and their ability to understand the information you’re trying to give them. Their vulnerably and emotional state is important, especially if they are suddenly taken ill with something serious. But it’s easy when you’re seeing this day in and day out to get a little bit used to it.”

This fall, if Peres can secure enough funding to ramp up in time, the system will be rolled out to support medical education across the Trust.

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