Healthcare students learn to work in teams through virtual reality

In today’s healthcare setting, it has become more common for healthcare professionals of various expertise to collaborate as a team, so as to achieve the best outcome for their patients. The lack of effective communication among inter-professional healthcare teams, however, has been identified as one of the causes of medical errors and negative health outcomes.

In response to this, Professor Liaw Sok Ying and her team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) created a virtual platform known as “Create Real-Life Experience and Teamwork in Virtual Environment (CREATIVE)”, which aims to hone collaboration and communication skills among students across various healthcare disciplines. The team’s research and development of CREATIVE started since 2017.

CREATIVE allows students to practice working as part of an inter-professional team to treat a patient in a simulated environment, without having to deal with issues such as scheduling and geographical locations. Students get to work with more medical professionals, and in the process be exposed to more opportunities to learn how to communicate better within a team of professionals. The importance of face-to-face interactions is not forgotten, as the CREATIVE virtual reality environment seeks to complement the students’ training. As part of the students’ existing curriculum, they would still be required to undergo physical ward simulations, and be attached to various hospitals to work with patients under supervision.

An initial pilot test was conducted in 2018, with 29 students from Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore Institute of Technology and NUS. These students majored in six different healthcare disciplines, namely, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, social work, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Students using the system during the pilot felt that learning in a virtual environment was perceived as less ‘threatening’ in the first instance, compared with face to face interactions.

Professor Liaw’s team hopes to further refine the platform, with eventual goal of incorporating the finished product into students’ course curricular.

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