UK doctors can practice emergency patient care in virtual reality

Doctors in the south of the UK can now run through virtual reality simulations of emergency care for folks suffering from Type 1 diabetes, before applying what they’ve learned on real patients.

Developed by the NHS England diabetes team and VR simulation firm Oxford Medical Simulation, with funding from Novo Nordisk, the simulation combines clinical knowledge gleaned from the UK’s National Health Service, input from patient volunteers and VR software running on Oculus Rift headsets.

“When I was in training we’d learn on the wards,” said Dr Jack Pottle, co-founder of Oxford Medical Simulation. “It was called ‘see one, do one, teach one.’ I had never practiced managing a diabetic emergency until I had to do it in real life. You wouldn’t expect a pilot to fly a plane full of passengers without having practiced first. Why do we think that’s acceptable for doctors and nurses?”

The VR training system has been set up to provide better training for medical professionals in emergency healthcare, such as recognizing and intervening in difficult-to-spot life-threatening situations like when someone with diabetes has extreme high or low blood sugar levels. Such an emergency could prove fatal for the patient if not treated quickly. Donning a headset and running through virtual reality scenarios should help doctors be better prepared for real-life emergencies, without putting actual patients at risk.

The virtual reality training pilot is currently being rolled out across multiple NHS sites in southern England by Health Education England. If this early program proves useful, it could be adopted nationwide later in the year.