VIRTUAL / AUGMENTED REALITY
PERINATAL MENTAL HEALTH GETS VIRTUAL REALITY TREATMENT IN TRAINING PROGRAMME
England has become one of the first countries in the world to launch clinical training in perinatal mental health using Extended Reality ( XR ) technology .
Perinatal mental health conditions affect between 10 – 20 % of people giving birth in the UK . While these problems are often mild and last for a short period , some can present as severe mental illnesses and , without the right immediate support and care , can pose a high risk to parents and their babies .
Treatment for perinatal mental health conditions relies on healthcare professionals being able to engage and communicate effectively with patients to determine the severity of their condition and make appropriate interventions .
However , there are often limited opportunities for learners to practice these skills in a safe learning environment where they can practice and reflect on their experiences .
A ground-breaking patient avatar has been developed by Health Education England in partnership with Fracture Reality and allows healthcare learners to expand their skills by interacting with people with perinatal mental health problems through a series of instructor-driven simulations .
Using a headset , learners interact with the avatar , called Stacey – a virtual patient who is directed by an instructor and runs as a simulation on Fracture Reality ’ s JoinXR platform .
The technology can be used in Augmented Reality where learners are able to practice in their own clinical setting as well as Virtual Reality , which offers students the chance to experience interacting with Stacey in her own home or other clinical settings .
The project provides learners with an immersive simulated experience that allows them to have realistic and natural conversations with Stacey , asking her about her symptoms and making plans to get her the right support . These scenarios represent the types of real-life conversations health professionals may have with perinatal mental health patients – but in Stacey ’ s case , she is able to present to anyone who meets her in a standardised approach that enables the learner to reflect and debrief .
The Centre for Immersive Technologies at the University of Leeds have evaluated the training experience .
Over 100 participants , ranging from GP and mental health nurse trainees , as well as students training to become doctors or aspiring to be clinical psychologists , have taken part .
The study has shown that this new immersive method of training is highly usable and useful for learners and educators . Some highlights include participants showing significant improvements in cognitive and emotional understanding after undertaking the simulation .
GPs in training reported a reduction in anxiety surrounding perinatal mental health consultations .
Mental health nursing students had increased motivation and felt more prepared to pursue a career specialising in perinatal care . Across all participants , almost four out of five ( 79 %) learners said they preferred this simulation training over traditional approaches . �
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