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How Helpful Is Virtual Reality in Healthcare?

Typically, nurses learn how to care for patients through classroom instruction and clinical rotations. While these are effective methods, a new trend in healthcare training has emerged: medical simulation. Nurses enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program will learn to treat patients during their clinicals and practice on mannequins and actors portraying patients, but, increasingly, they will also hone their skills with emerging virtual reality technology.

Types of Simulation in Healthcare

In an immersive medical simulation, a realistic healthcare setting allows nursing students to interact with mannequins as patients. Educators and technical staff wirelessly operate the mannequins, which have a pulse and can blink, breathe, cry, sweat and display vital signs. The instructor can create a variety of scenarios that require physical examinations, injections and other procedures.

Virtual reality is another form of simulation used in clinical education. Three-dimensional, game-based technology allows nursing students to enter a computer-generated environment to learn about procedures, techniques, equipment, diagnoses, treatments and patient interactions.

Why Is Simulation Helpful?

Modern simulation often is traced to around 1909 when pilots began training in flight simulators. The first systems were rudimentary, but today, they have become much more sophisticated and are comparable to flying a real plane.

Virtual reality is not just for gaming anymore. Many industries and organizations are using virtual reality simulation for training — real estate, automotive manufacturing, military, NASA, museums and courtrooms. The benefits of simulation in healthcare for nursing students include the following:

  • Exposure to real life situations.
  • Ability to replicate patient cases.
  • Feedback and assessment from instructors.
  • No risk to a patient’s health.

Medical simulation mimics scenarios that nurses may encounter while working in healthcare facilities. Simulation also provides nursing students with a safe environment to develop the skills they need to administer quality care without harming any patients.

Applying Virtual Reality to Patient Care

Healthcare providers are now using virtual reality to help patients suffering from a variety of problems, including the following:

  • Phantom limb syndrome.
  • Severe burns.
  • Complications from a stroke.
  • Autism.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Brain damage.
  • Anxiety and depression.

Since 1997, virtual reality has assisted soldiers with PTSD. A virtual reality exposure therapy program called Virtually Better helps healthcare professionals treat patients with conditions such as fear of flying, crowds or confined spaces.

Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas uses virtual reality to relieve pain. To alleviate pain for burn victims, the hospital gives patients a virtual reality headset so they can enter the icy landscape of SnowWorld where they throw snowballs at snowman and igloos. The idea behind virtual reality for pain management is to focus a patient’s attention on something other than their discomfort.

At Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, surgeons saved the life of a four-month old baby when they performed heart surgery with the aid of virtual reality imaging. Afterward, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital formed a partnership with Next Galaxy Corp to develop software that will educate their staff in procedures for wound care, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and Foley catheter insertion.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California launched a pilot program to study virtual reality devices — supplied by Samsung — to ease patient stress. The program gave VR headsets to patients, who could choose up to four virtual reality simulations, each of which lasted two to five minutes. The simulations included a helicopter ride over Iceland, a visit to an art studio where they could paint, and an underwater excursion to swim with dolphins and other sea creatures. Approximately 70 patients participated in the program, and many experienced a decrease in stress and anxiety.

Developing competency in patient care is crucial for nurses. Simulation in healthcare is valuable because it allows nurses to make mistakes without catastrophic outcomes, and it can improve the quality of patient care and enhance a patient’s healthcare experience.

Learn more about the UTA online BSN program.


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