Virtual reality helping hospital staff protect themselves against aggression

WSLHD Research and Education Network digital innovation lead Nathan Moore shows Dr Clarisse Puno how to use the VR training.

Emergency Department teams in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) are getting Australian-first innovative virtual reality (VR) training to prepare them for critical scenarios on the front line.

The custom-built, state-of-the-art VR program ‘Code Black’ creates an immersive and life-like training experience, putting staff into virtual situations of personal threat. Violence and aggression toward hospital staff is an internationally-acknowledged issue and the ‘Code Black VR program’ is just one of many initiatives to help keep staff safe.

WSLHD chief executive Graeme Loy said the program complements existing in-person training, and is designed to ensure staff have the skills to identify early warning signs and act to de-escalate potentially aggressive and dangerous situations.

Our current simulation modules have been great for training staff, and we will continue to use them in tandem, but the immersive VR environment this technology offers is the closest thing to on-the-job training or resource intensive simulation-based training,” Mr Loy said.

“This 360-degree portable technology is a game changer for us. We’ve already seen great success in this space with the ALS-SimVR cardiac arrest module winning our District’s 2021 Chief Executive Award for helping to significantly reduce cardiac arrests in the inpatient population; so I have high hopes for the effectiveness of this approach.”

The Code Black VR program’ was developed by WSLHD Research and Education Network digital innovation lead Nathan Moore and Martin Brown from the University of Sydney’s Westmead Initiative, and is just one of the innovative training modules available to staff.

The virtual reality hardware is cost-effective and has already changed the way education is delivered, allowing staff to practice at a time and place that best suits them without the need for supervision or support from an educator.

“Face-to-face training is really powerful, but is extremely resource intensive,” Mr Moore said.

“It requires taking staff off the floor, having skilled instructors and expensive associated equipment available. This is a really powerful supplemental tool that will allow staff to engage and refresh as needed, rather than having to bring together a whole group of people for training.”

Westmead Hospital Emergency Department registrar Dr Clarisse Puno is excited for the move from simulation to virtual reality training and said the VR program is very realistic and comparable to real life experience.

I actually felt like I was in the ward with an aggressive patient in-front of me. So comparing the VR to real life experience, it felt very similar,” Dr Puno said.

Clarisse Puno

“To have this technology available to help us manage and practice escalation skills is going to be really useful.”

Any instances of aggression toward NSW Health staff is not tolerated.

The 2021/22 NSW Government Budget included a $69.7 million package as part of the response to recommendations by the Honourable Peter Anderson of the state-wide hospital security review.