Staff at an NHS trust will take part in immersive scenarios to help them improve their interactions with patients
"Using the VR headset, and accessing the Virti platform, it really felt as though you were in the room and you could feel the emotion from the characters. As a bystander in the scenario it’s almost as if the characters are asking for your help or for you to defend them.” Dr Claire Tiley, fellow in medical education at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
Mental health workers at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust are taking part in a virtual reality (VR) pilot to improve interpersonal and inclusion skills.
The Maudsley Learning research team at the trust have worked with the virtual learning company Virti to create virtual reality scenarios which staff will be able to take part in using headsets or mobile devices. The project is part of a bigger piece of research into overcoming inequality in health care.
Using the VR technology, mental health workers at the trust will be able to enter an immersive environment and use the scenarios to improve their ability to engage empathetically with patients. After staff have taken part in the training, the Maudsley trainers will carry out a structured debrief, using the scenarios as a springboard for discussion.
Maudsley hopes the VR simulations will help speed up diversity and inclusion training, improve patient outcomes and tackle racial, ethnic and gender disparities in mental health care provision.
James Pathan, head of operations at Maudsley Learning, said: “Immersive VR technology has huge potential to transform the way that we train healthcare staff. In busy hospital environments, it’s near impossible to find the time and resources that are needed to deliver effective upskilling programmes, but recent innovations in VR tech have the potential to offer a very impactful solution.
“A major advantage is the scalability of the technology, and the potential to reach more of the workforce with lower cost, experiential training. Having this training placed on wards allows staff to access learning at their own convenience. Workplace based, in-situ training takes the training out of the classroom and directly to the learners.
“Our research has shown that learners undergoing immersive simulation training not only learn more quickly, retain information for longer and are more engaged with the content. The team here at Maudsley Learning are very excited by the opportunities that this technology has to offer the healthcare education sector at this time of intensified need.”
Because traditional face-to-face training is expensive, many NHS organisations, including King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and Health Education England, are now embracing VR as a low-cost alternative.
Dr Claire Tiley, fellow in medical education at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said: “From my own experience, I know that training with these new simulations on the Virti platform is a very different experience to traditional classroom or e-learning. I think that the scenarios are very emotive. Using the VR headset, and accessing the Virti platform, it really felt as though you were in the room and you could feel the emotion from the characters. As a bystander in the scenario it’s almost as if the characters are asking for your help or for you to defend them.”
As well as the diversity and inclusion module, Maudsley Learning is working to develop and pilot other VR training modules, including ones on conflict de-escalation, reducing restrictive practices and increasing awareness of how mental and physical health affect each other.
A lack of training opportunities contributes to the difficulties the NHS has in recruiting and retaining mental health staff. Increasingly trusts are turning to virtual reality as a low-cost but effective alternative to traditional training methods. VR has the advantage of offering an immersive experience that can be more powerful than sitting in a lecture room listening to a trainer. It is also flexible – students can take part in it at a time of their choosing. There is good evidence to show “hands on” VR training can improve surgical training and it will be interesting to see where else across health and care such approaches can be applied. As with any training, however, the key to success lies in the quality of the content, and any pilot must be assessed on measurable outcomes before being adopted more widely.