Perinatal mental health gets virtual reality treatment in ground-breaking training programme
England is the first country to introduce clinical training in perinatal mental health using extended reality (XR) technology. Perinatal mental health conditions affect 10-20% of people giving birth in the UK. Immediate support and care are crucial to mitigate risks to parents and babies. Effective communication and engagement with patients are vital for treatment, but learners have limited opportunities to practice these skills in a safe environment.
Health Education England, in collaboration with Fracture Reality, has developed an innovative patient avatar called Stacey. This avatar enables healthcare learners to enhance their interaction skills with individuals experiencing perinatal mental health issues through instructor-led simulations. By using a headset, learners can engage with Stacey in augmented or virtual reality settings, allowing them to practice in clinical or home environments. The project offers an immersive experience where learners can have realistic conversations with Stacey, asking about her symptoms and planning appropriate support. This simulation helps learners prepare for real-life scenarios by providing a standardized approach for reflection and debriefing. Ultimately, the avatar assists students in honing their skills in a safe environment before applying them in actual clinical settings.
The University of Leeds' Centre for Immersive Technologies conducted an evaluation of training experience. More than 100 participants, including GP and mental health trainees, aspiring doctors, and future clinical psychologists, took part. Results showed that this immersive training method was highly usable and beneficial for learners and educators. Notable findings included significant improvements in cognitive and emotional understanding among participants after the simulation. GP trainees experienced reduced anxiety regarding perinatal mental health consultations, while mental health nursing students felt more motivated and prepared for careers in perinatal care. Nearly 79% of participants preferred this simulation training over traditional methods. Other universities will have the opportunity to trial the technology with their own students. HEE's Technology Enhanced Learning team supported the project by managing relationships with experts and suppliers, ensuring access to XR technology for NHS organizations delivering the training.
Rebecca Burgess-Dawson, National Clinical Lead for Mental Health at Health Education England, said: “Stacey provides students and learners with a wealth of scenarios that they may encounter while they are working in a clinical setting, all in a natural and realistic way.
“The potential impact that she has on perinatal mental health training is enormous and she will have a real benefit for learners in gaining the practice and skills they need for future patients they treat.”
Dr Faisal Mushtaq, Director of the Centre for Immersive Technologies, said: “The enormous potential for XR to accelerate learning has been clear for some time. But thus far, most examples in healthcare have been limited to areas involving ‘technical skills’.
“For example, we, and others, have shown how VR can be used to learn to perform surgical procedures.
“This project is significant because it demonstrates how these technologies can help people deal with difficult emotionally challenging conversations that can arise in mental health consultations. This is a big step forward for using XR to support learning and skill acquisition.”
Mark Knowles-Lee, Chief Executive of Facture Reality, said: “We're excited to see the latest technology realised in such a meaningful way with our digital patients like Stacey.
“It's a great privilege to be at the centre of this multidisciplinary team, coalescing cutting-edge design and development with world-class expertise in healthcare and training.
“We're proud to be breaking new ground, using our JoinXR platform and paving the way for further pedagogical innovation that keeps pace with the rapid technological advancements on the near-horizon.”
This news story has been produced by Chesil Radio's News Team, for more information please visit: https://www.chesilradio.com