I was impressed to see at a recent event the progress that is being made in the use of virtual reality in health and adult social care. As is the case in most other sectors, advancement is still in the early stages, but it was encouraging to see more organisations embracing the opportunities afforded by the use of this technology.
Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person using virtual reality equipment to look around the artificial world, move around in it and interact with virtual features or items.
It is extensively used in gaming and in recent years has been developed and adopted more widely by industry.
One of the main uses of VR in health and social care has been for teaching and learning situations, whereby the interactive experience of the person within the virtual world provides a safe environment in which to learn and practice how best to handle real-life situations.
Using training stimulations, different scenarios can be created and re-enacted to allow people to learn and practice their skills in a controlled environment. The immersive nature of virtual reality can be similar to the real world, to help people connect and give context to their experiences.
The advantages of experiential learning are well known. Back in 2015, whilst working for a national care provider, before virtual reality was commonplace, we used experiential learning to train the workforce. ‘Homemade’ adaptive equipment and tools were used to give care workers an experience of what it felt like to support older people with various health conditions and ailments.
Staff underwent a series of training scenarios to put them into the ‘resident’s’ shoes’. They experienced what it was like to be partially sighted whilst being supported to eat and drink, how it felt to be lifted in a hoist, and so forth. Reflection on the experience enabled staff to learn the difference between good and poor practice.
The overwhelming response from the staff who took part in the training was that they felt more able to understand the perspective of others and that through their own experience could genuinely provide better care, that was sympathetic to the needs of the individual, having gone through a similar situation themselves.
The progression in virtual reality creates opportunities for organisations to replicate training situations based on scenarios to help enhance service delivery, change practice and improve people’s lives.
The Virtual Dementia Tours have been giving people a stimulated sense of the condition for a number of years. Using bumpy insoles placed in shoes, sensory gloves, headphones and dark glasses to give people an experience of what dementia might be like.
Lifecast Body Simulation using their range of lifelike human ‘bodies’ has developed a notable advancement in medical skills training. The ‘bodies’ are based on scans of real people that feature lifelike veins, hair, articulated mouth for airways management, etc. The ‘bodies’ have revolutionised training in healthcare and although they are not technically virtual reality, they provide an unrivalled opportunity to create realism to medical training.
Similarly, Flix REELS (Reality Enhanced Experiential Learning Scenarios), part of Flix Films Ltd have been working with organisations within social care to use interactive experiences through 360 vision and sound to recreate emotional real-life training programmes for organisations. Their work with Royal Trinity Hospice for example, has made use of the advantages of virtual reality to support experiential learning.
Elsewhere within the sector, armchair travel is becoming an additional activity on many care homes events calendars. Somerset Care, Countrywide Care Homes and many others have embraced virtual reality to create reminiscence activities and experiences for residents, who would otherwise not be able to participate in such experiences due to mobility issues or health conditions.
Armchair travel transports residents to a holiday destination of their choice, whether it was an old family favourite, or a new destination to explore. Residents travel to locations and experiences around the world as if they were there in person. Such experiences have been found to greatly improve people’s quality of life.
Real life experiences can be a positive way to learn and remember. As we’ve seen above, reality enhanced experiences can lead to new and exciting experiences that can positively impact people’s lives, enhance their wellbeing, knowledge and skills.
With virtual reality still in its early stages of development within the health and social care sector, it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time, as the technology becomes more affordable and widely available.