Could VR play a critical role in making the healthcare sector more efficient?

The healthcare and life sciences industry is under more pressure than ever before.

Organisations in this sector are at the forefront of efforts to tackle the virus but also facing disruption themselves and having to adapt to new ways of working. In this climate, we need to explore the ways in which technology can make healthcare training and development more efficient and effective.

Virtual Reality (VR) could prove to be an important tool in an industry where every improvement counts. With the pandemic causing disruption to everyday life, collaborating safely and getting the right people in a room together has become increasingly difficult. VR’s ability to train people in any place, anywhere, can provide meaningful continuity to a sector that cannot afford to slow down.

The birth of “virtual” innovation districts

Innovation districts – urban clusters of universities, research bodies, teaching hospitals and knowledge-rich businesses – are an important part of the life sciences landscape. They bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and investors in an environment that enables collaboration and co-creation, and have become increasingly popular over the last few years for both science-based startups and larger firms doing research and development. This kind of collaboration has been central to efforts to find treatments and vaccinations for COVID-19, with these districts leveraging their academic research capabilities and science and innovation infrastructure.

But as office buildings and universities stand empty or host just a small proportion of their usual occupants, remote-working and learning tools are crucial for keeping this collaboration alive. Organisations that take the ‘next step’ in terms of collaboration technology, going beyond video calls and messaging apps, could reap significant rewards. VR can make people feel like they are in the same space together, offering possibilities for working together, training in the same virtual space, and practising collaboratively on equipment and techniques.

As organisations, academics, governments and others race to find solutions, global coordination and meaningful collaboration is critical, and VR can enable this in a remote working world. Plus, VR minimises distraction, improves information retention and allows sessions to be revisited by participants. Virtual collaboration can actually be more effective than meeting in real life, and the VR environment far surpasses traditional collaboration tools like presentations and brainstorms.

VR for medical training

At a time when it’s even more important than usual not to take vital equipment out of circulation, and when face-to-face training on real patients carries a higher risk than normal, VR training for medical professionals comes into its own. VR enables trainees to perform ‘hands on’ procedures in a safe setting, and make mistakes without risk to patients. Medical professionals have the same experience wherever they’re based and whenever they’re available, and employers can be sure that all staff are receiving the same level of training.

A good example of the potential of VR technology in a healthcare setting is a program developed by Immerse for GE Healthcare to train radiographers to perform CTCA scans. CTCA scanning is a relevantly advanced CT scan technique to capture detailed images that can identify patients at risk of developing heart problems. Training has proved tricky, as access to CTCA-capable scanners is limited, meaning that not enough radiographers are trained in the technique.

The VR training environment includes various patient case studies, and trainees go through the whole process of performing a scan, from understanding patient history and attaching the leads to them, through a fully simulated software interaction flow for acquiring the final scan images. This training platform has both increased the number of practical training hours and also allowed radiographers to run through more procedures.

VR is so effective in a healthcare training context because it can accurately replicate the experience of dealing with different patients and equipment, while gamification elements can increase engagement and focus. Simulations like the CTCA programme also capture huge amounts of data on both an individual and an aggregate level, enabling employers to track progress and outcomes, and offering invaluable insights for improving the training itself and also real-world processes. Data can also be used to personalise simulations on an individual level.

The real-world impact of virtual reality

Projects like the CTCA scanner program demonstrate how a realistic VR training simulation can help overcome barriers to effective medical training like limited access to equipment and ethical issues with practising on real patients. The COVID-19 pandemic means that there are also additional barriers to in-person training, including extra pressure on resources and increased risk of contagion.

The healthcare sector is always under pressure and finding efficiencies is perennially important, but this is true now more than ever. Whether it’s helping innovative companies to collaborate virtually with researchers on new treatments, or helping medics to train on the latest equipment, virtual reality could have a critical role to play.

About the Author

Tom Symonds is CEO of Immerse. Immerse is the technology company behind the industry-leading virtual reality platform, Immerse VEP. Built for enterprise from the ground up, the platform helps companies create, scale and deploy VR training and maximise their ROI.

Featured image: ©DC_Studio