Virtual reality (VR) is being used to train and prepare the next generation of paramedics to respond to terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
Edith Cowan University researchers have worked with Perth VR production company Virtual Guest to create a fully immersive 360 virtual reality environment which simulates a mass casualty event.
The researchers are examining how the VR experience compares to traditional methods of mass casualty training, which use actors with Hollywood style make-up to simulate wounded patients.
Preparing for the worst
ECU School of Medical and Health Sciences researcher Dr Brennen Mills said traditionally mass casualty event training had been taught either in lectures or seminars, or by conducting live simulations.
“Both of these approaches have their drawbacks,” he said.
“It’s impossible to provide a realistic experience of responding to a mass casualty event in a classroom.
“While live simulations give a more authentic learning experience, they require a significant amount of resources to do, including multiple actors, various settings, patient moulage (wound make-up) and substantial coordination of personnel.”
First to respond
Dr Mills said mass casualty event training aimed to help students develop the decision making skills to operate under intense pressure.
“Mass casualty events are chaotic and confronting. The focus of paramedics who first arrive at the scene won’t be to treat patients, but to gauge the urgency of each wounded person to decide the order of treatment when more resources arrive.”
“We hope to be able to show that using VR simulations can help better prepare students to respond to mass casualty events.”
The VR training program provides users with a 360 degree fully immersive environment that they interact with using a headset and hand-held controls.
“This allows the user to look around the scene in every direction, as if they are really there. The scene features actors with different injuries and in varying states of distress. The user can interact with these actors in the simulation to get information about their vital signs, including their heart rate and breathing,” Dr Mills said.
“The students then have to make an assessment of each patient and assign them a priority for treatment.”
ECU paramedic lecturer Peggy Dykstra is undertaking her PhD research on the use of VR for paramedic training. She said the student’s immersion, performance and satisfaction with the VR simulation would be compared to a live simulation.
“This will tell us if VR can be used as an immersive and cost effective way to train for mass casualty events,” Ms Dykstra said.
The research is funded through an $85,000 ECU Industry Collaboration grant in partnership with Virtual Guest.
VR limits the variables of live simulations
Virtual Guest founder and CEO Brandon D’Silva said VR offers a number of advantages over live simulations.
“Unlike live simulations where there are variables that can’t be controlled, such as the actors’ performances, with a VR experience we can ensure that each student receives the exact same experience,” he said.
“We are also able to capture data on how people interact with the VR experience, which will allow us to modify and improve it going forward.”