The future: can virtual reality bridge the gap in medical education?

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Luna Williams, commentator for Arora Medical Education, examines ways in which medical technologies can be used to help younger generations participate in medical and clinical education.

Earlier this month, the NHS lost its position as the best health service in the developed world.

Having retained its place at the top of the Commonwealth Fund’s ranking report – which it has held for the latest drafts – the NHS fell to fourth and was overtaken by Norway, the Netherlands and Australia.

According to the US-based ThinkTank responsible for writing the report, this slippage was “largely due to increasing delays in the system in people’s ability to access care quickly.”

These have been no secret to the British public in recent months, with the COVID-19 pandemic commonly cited as the main cause of these delays. With routine and elective treatment pushed back as NHS staff were prepared to deal with the immediate threat the virus posed to patients during its multiple waves, the backlog of patients has been granted nearly 18 months to increase. This has led to longer waiting times, appointment delays and, in several cases, a lack of contact or information for people waiting for GP and specialist appointments.

However, as Siva Anandaciva (the chief analyst at the corresponding UK ThinkTank, the Kings Fund) points out, the pandemic cannot be held solely responsible for this backlog.

“We cannot ignore the fact that this is only a consequence of the impact of the pandemic on patients, staff and services,” he said. “Even before COVID, waiting lists for treatment were already large after a decade of funding freeze and a growing workforce crisis. “

The medical education gap

The workforce crisis cited by Anandaciva has been a growing problem in the NHS and has been massively exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to the government List of shortage occupations in the UK, GPs, nurses and paramedics – along with several other specialist medical roles – all experience a “skills shortage.” This problem is commonly referred to as the “medical education gap”: quite simply, too few people are acquiring the skills required to take on medical roles and meet the growing demands of the population.

In practice, this means that the patient / doctor ratio is the worst it has been in over 50 years, with 60 GPs per 100,000 patients according to Nuffield Trust data and the number of GP shortages nationwide facing a deficit of 11,500 by the end of the decade.

This gap also affects other health care roles, such as nurses; the health foundation found that 1 in 10 nursing positions were still vacant in December.

With this in mind, closing the medical education gap has become more critical than ever; forecasts estimate that, if not addressed drastically and population growth continues at the same rate, the total shortage of healthcare workers will reach 350,000 by 2030.

After seeing the pressure that an unprecedented global health crisis can place on our NHS and those who work there, there has never been such a strong imperative to find ways to support, motivate and encourage medical students and employees.

The power of medical technology

While medical technology solutions are often patient-centric, there are several ways that developers and people working in the medical technology industry can focus on training, recruiting, and retaining clinical professionals.

Some trusts are already testing the use of such technologies – made more essential during social distancing restrictions. For example, the Kent Community Foundation reported several ways they were able to use MedTech solutions to help recruit and manage staff when ordering home stays during the second wave of the pandemic.

The Trust reported major improvements in recruitment processes through the use of remote interview rooms, virtual recruitment fairs, online assessments and online administrative solutions for new positions on offer.

In management, the data also showed that technologies had helped to show a better and more cohesive approach to employee management. In one case, virtual “swing rooms” (modeled after the physical swing rooms of many Kent hospitals) were designed, where staff could go for a break. Virtual morning coffees and quizzes were also used by the Trust to help relieve and connect staff members who were forced to do their jobs in isolation during the same period.

In this case, the technologies helped push through the doors to more skilled staff, while also motivating (and retaining) current employees who had been placed under additional pressure as a result of the pandemic.

But how can these trials be used to inspire and implement bigger changes? And, more importantly, how can they be used to help bridge the education gap and encourage younger generations, in particular, to undertake clinical training?

Virtual reality and simulation

Virtual reality, or VR, has taken many industries by storm over the past several years, from gaming to retail experimenting with the use of interactive VR simulators.

Healthcare is no exception to this rule, and medical technology developers have been working on clinical simulation technologies for some time to help educate medical students and professionals.

A 2018 A study found that 48% of 2016 medical applicants used virtual education technology for laparoscopic surgery training. During the same period, the report also found that VR improved the final grades of 74% of students and that greater accuracy in medical practice by people trained by VR simulations was reported in 87%. student cases. .

The effectiveness of VR in medicine has been tested in small batches over the past five years, including in interventional radiology education, surgical simulation, and lecture presentation, all with great success.

Go forward

As we move forward in a post-pandemic society, medical technology developers and NHS employers must work together to develop, test and implement VR.

Generation Z is known to be particularly responsive to technology-based learning, and it is the talent pool that policymakers, educators and recruiters need to turn to for the next generation of general practitioners, medical specialists, nurses and health professionals.


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