Coronavirus: How virtual reality revolution could play a role in tackling coronavirus

FundamentalVR was set up six years ago. It provides VR technology to train surgeons and healthcare workers can allow them to practise in an environment which mirrors real-world conditions. Speaking to Express.co.uk, co-founder Richard Vincent explained: “Surgical training really hadn’t changed much in the last 150 years.”

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The previous models of watching mentors and slowly developing skills were often very time-consuming.

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But, Mr Vincent explained with VR: “It gives the ability to influence and change your skills set and teach you totally.

“You’re either testing on a cadaver or a live patient, which has a lot of inherent risks.”

Several NHS trusts are already making use of VR, for example, Hull University Training Schools have introduced VR to maternity wards to allow expecting mothers to experience the environment prior to going into labour.



Mr Vincent explained a potential future development of VR: “More patient-specific modelling, you have a chance to learn on generic models, you then start to learn on specific patient models, so you do the actual rehearsal on the actual procedure before you actually go in and interact with a live patient.

“In the end practice makes perfect, so the more you can do it the better.”

He added this could improve the confidence of both practitioner and patient prior to the procedure taking place.

FundamentalVR’s model, Mr Vincent also said can measure all aspect of work and make predictions to decipher which aspects need to be worked on most.

Many healthcare systems around the world are currently tackling the coronavirus pandemic and Mr Vincent discussed the role VR could play in this crisis and future ones: “I think it’s limited in the crisis right in this moment, that’s mainly because it’s still fairly early and as a result, there isn’t that much infrastructure out there, there aren’t many headsets people can put on and use.”

The company has sent several headsets to New York University.

However, Mr Vincent says the outbreak has limited the potential for training: “Now that all the elective surgery has been cancelled, you’ve lost the ability to learn, you need other ways of doing it.”

Though, he says speaking to people within healthcare he sees ways in which VR could be useful as these organisations are “now looking for ways to do collaboration without coming together, developing ways to get close together, without physically being together.”

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Through VR, an unlimited number of people can practise for a case from anywhere in the world: “When there’s a period of adversity and enforced change I think what comes out of that is a slightly new normal.”

“It could be quite profound, if you start at the diagnosis level, the ability to put you physically into a room with a virtual doctor brings you closer, I think it can be really valuable there in explaining a condition and allowing them to see that condition affecting their bodies.”

Mr Vincent noted there had been great work in using VR to ease trauma and post-traumatic stress and that the technology in the current pandemic could prove useful to patients as well as practitioners: “You’ve got a lot of people who are isolated, even inside the hospital environment, if we had the infrastructure we could reduce their stress, increase their comfort levels by placing them in a virtual space for a period of time and allowing them to feel like they’re virtually closer to friends and family.”

Even in an isolated environment, this is something the technology could make possible as well as other improvements in patient care: “Immense power there, hopefully as we look forward that should become more prevalent.”

Asked about whether the Government and NHS Trusts had been keen to explore the use of VR, Mr Vincent said: “Certainly, Innovate UK have been very supportive of virtual reality and virtual reality within the medical space, I think with central Government you could potentially say they don’t perhaps fully understand the potential of what it could do for the NHS and the healthcare system.

“I think when you look at the NHS Trusts individually, I think most of them recognise the value of VR in lots of areas and are trying to work out how to navigate that.”

Innovate UK is a non-departmental public body, part of UK Research and Innovation, which is funded through the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Mr Vincent suggested the Government could offer more support in guiding NHS Trusts in how to effectively and efficiently use VR, though he added the FundamentalVR model was accredited by the Royal College of Surgeons, which allows the NHS to adopt and adapt.

FundamentalVR is working on new technology to help frontline workers dealing with COVID-19.

He said: “In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been working with Imperial College London and the NHS on a ventilator trainer to help with the problems there because obviously there needs to be massive retraining there.”

Some healthcare workers may not have worked in intensive care for a number of years, he explained, VR could allow for quicker refresher courses to a large number of workers.

Mr Vincent noted that better training can improve the ability of practitioners to carry out what they need and this could reduce errors and therefore, cost.

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