Aussie first: advanced training in another world

Dr Kanan Shah, clinical nurse specialist Sandra Warburton, and simulation nurse educators Nathan Moore and Leah Fuller with a dummy used in simulation training.

Fit the headset over your eyes and you’re in a digital world, where every decision you make impacts whether your virtual patient lives or dies.

Tech experts in the simulation lab at Westmead Hospital are exploring how virtual reality (VR) could revolutionise the way clinicians are trained in life-saving skills.

Western Sydney Local Health District nurse educator Nathan Moore is working with Martin Brown from the University of Sydney’s Westmead Initiative to create an Australian-first VR training application for advanced life support (ALS) team leaders.

ALS is a set of protocols and skills needed in any hospital setting to save someone suffering cardiac arrest.

As part of their annual accreditation process, clinicians currently undergo training through the simulation lab, a collaborative department supported by the Research and Education Network.

The ALS team leader needs training to monitor the dynamic situation, in which every second counts, while they direct the life-saving actions of four other team members.

It’s not possible to have four people available to fill those roles for every training scenario, but with the new ALS virtual reality simulation, the team leader could take a headset home and brush up on their skills while preparing for accreditation.

The program is loaded entirely within the headset, making the training portable, and the clinician directs the actions of their virtual team using a simple handheld control.

Nathan poses for a photo for the Daily Telegraph, which featured the app in a story on June 1.

“We’re not just utilising technology for the sake of technology, we’re looking to fill a real need in our training by giving people the opportunity to practice the skills they’d need in a real emergency,” Nathan said.

“Cardiac arrest is a low-frequency, high-stakes event, which means clinicians don’t get much opportunity to practice the skills they’ll need to save a life when that moment arrives. This is why it’s important for the training we provide to be as immersive and realistic as possible.”

The app has been built using a game engine, so the decisions made by the clinicians determine the treatment received by the patient – just like in a real cardiac arrest scenario.

“This approach makes it possible for the clinician to be presented with a different case in each practice session,” Martin said.

The app also gives people the ability to pause and replay scenarios. The decisions made by clinicians in the app are captured for future discussion, so staff can assess their own performance and confidence in stressful situations like cardiac arrest.

“VR technology uniquely allows us to prepare staff for the complex realities of cardiac arrest in a manageable – and virtual – environment,” Martin said.

The University of Sydney has funded the $40,000 prototype app as part of its $80 millin investment into technology, infrastructure and student growth at Westmead Hospital. The app, which is being built by Australian virtual reality tech company Frameless Interactive, is in its final stages of beta testing and soon ready to be shown to clinicians.

Nathan plans to test the effectiveness of the app as part of his PhD studies, to see whether clinicians who utilise the program have a higher success rate when it comes to accreditation.

He sees potential for the program to expand to other areas of training across the health world.

“I don’t think virtual reality will ever replace the need for tactile, hands-on training, but it’s definitely a great way to supplement what already exists to help clinicians be better prepared to put their skills into practice,” Nathan said.