Five Reasons Healthcare Organizations Should Consider Using Virtual Reality to Train Clinicians

Updated on April 22, 2023
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As the medical field continuously evolves, demand persists for continuing clinical education and effective and timely competency training. With new clinicians entering the healthcare space during a workforce shortage, hospitals need to ensure that their workforce is able to competently deliver care for the complex medical needs and demands of their patients. Additionally, the introduction of new technologies and medical breakthroughs occur daily, requiring medical professionals to complete the corresponding training courses, as well as those aimed at maintaining compliance and licensure.

With the emergence of new technologies and the gamification of learning, a growing number of surgeons and health professionals are beginning to implement virtual reality (VR) to provide clinical training and are observing its numerous benefits. VR training has been shown to improve participants’ surgical performance by 230% and helps them complete procedures 20% faster and more accurately compared to traditional training methods.

Healthcare VR training creates a simulated yet realistic experience for clinicians, giving them a 3D immersive perspective of potential real-life scenarios through the use of a digital headset that allows them to see, hear, and feel their surroundings. Instead of instructor-led education, VR can better prepare clinicians for job expectations by combining elements from digital learning, video and multimedia-based learning, and simulation-based learning, enabling them to make and learn from mistakes more freely.

While healthcare organizations are increasingly embracing the use of innovative tech, many are still reluctant when it comes to VR. Some organizations uphold the misconceptions that VR is expensive, difficult to use, or inferior to traditional training methods. However, VR’s unique capabilities ultimately help improve overall patient outcomes in addition to clinician experience.

Here are five reasons healthcare organizations should adopt VR to efficiently train clinicians:

  1. Introduce a cost effective learning tool. It can take an organization up to two years to train its entire workforce through lab-based simulations. These simulations require clinicians to gather together in person, making it hard to accommodate schedules and often requiring supplemental sessions for those with conflicts. With portable VR headsets, however, clinicians can complete trainings at their own convenience, allowing organizations to repeat lessons as frequently as every 90 days, if necessary. Since all training is virtual, only a headset is required, eliminating the need to hire instructors or book lab spaces. When VR was first introduced in the gaming space, it was considered lucrative and expensive. However, high-quality VR headsets are now relatively inexpensive and easily obtainable, not to mention reusable by countless learners. 
  2. Improve clinician engagement. VR gives clinicians the ability to fully immerse themselves in first-person point-of-view scenarios. Compared to more traditional training methods, VR is often considered more exciting and intriguing. Learners are not just listening to clinical instructions, but they are able to improve their communication and procedural skills through psychomotor learning. Since clinicians are virtually performing tasks in VR training, it builds procedural memory, which contributes to the mitigation of errors down the line, improving outcomes in future real-life situations. In addition, VR’s capabilities are expanding both within single player mode to allow one clinician to assess or practice competency and within team player mode to take into account interdisciplinary roles in an emergency, such as simulating a team responding to a bleeding emergency.
  3. Maintain a psychologically safe learning environment. VR is “practice” reality, meaning there are no real risks when it comes to making mistakes. Clinicians ultimately benefit from making mistakes in VR scenarios, as it encourages them to learn corrective procedures for the future. VR is also easily scalable and repeatable, enabling clinicians to redo tasks until they perfect them and feel confident mastering required skills. Whereas lab-based simulations can vary based on instructors and environments, VR lessons are the same every time. They are easily standardized, providing every learner with the same experience. VR training can also give learners and organizations detailed performance summaries, highlighting specific and personalized areas in which a learner can improve. On the organizational level, data from performance assessments can provide insights not only into an individual’s progress but that of a collective team, driving better overall patient outcomes.
  4. Drive higher learning retention. By simulating real-life, high-pressure, high-risk medical scenarios, VR’s real-world immersive setting can mimic a stressful work environment such as the emergency room and the everyday common challenges of unexpected interruptions. While VR scenarios do not use real patients or cases, the urgency and timing felt in the simulations is as similar to real life as it can get. With a more enjoyable and engaging learning environment, VR users are more likely to remember information taught in these training sessions and use learned skills, knowledge and critical thinking while on the job, thus improving clinical practice. VR can improve muscle memory and behavioral memory. While patient care is becoming more complicated, basic, yet critical safety steps are sometimes overlooked. The repetition and physical practice of washing your hands before and after a procedure in VR, for example, can create that muscle memory while working with real patients. Receiving real time feedback in a safe environment can influence a clinician’s judgment and decision making in real life situations.
  5. Supplement pre-existing digital learning tools. It is relatively simple for organizations to add VR to their existing educational programs. VR can complement an organization’s current digital learning media by letting clinicians put the skills learned from training videos or instructional text into practice. VR can simulate a caregiver’s point of view when delivering care to a patient, a therapeutic provider’s point of view when providing behavioral or mental health care, or provide guidance to a clinician on how to use surgical technology or equipment. Its many use cases and versatility make VR easily applicable to the trainings organizations already have in place.

By better preparing for what to expect while on the job with more frequent and hands-on training, clinicians are better equipped to deal with any situation they might encounter. As burnout and turnover rates are on the rise within the healthcare industry, it is paramount that nurses are supported in their current roles and have appropriate resources to allow them to thrive and deliver optimal patient care — and innovative technology like virtual reality offers this opportunity. 

Although VR technology has evolved a lot since its advent, it is continually evolving. In the future, improving voice response technology, hand controls, touch response, and additional features will continue to increase VR’s capabilities, unlocking new potential for interactive learning within the medical industry. 

Lora Sparkman MHA BSN RN is Partner Clinical Solutions at Relias
Lora Sparkman

Lora Sparkman, MHA, BSN, RN, is Partner, Clinical Solutions at Relias, trusted partner to more than 11,000 healthcare organizations and 4.5 million caregivers.