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Thursday 19 January 2023

Virtual reality training helps prepare doctors for diabetes emergencies

Southampton researchers were part of a trial which taught junior doctors how to manage diabetes emergencies using virtual reality (VR) technology.

Dr Mayank Patel is a Diabetes Consultant at University Hospital Southampton (UHS). He helped develop and deliver a pilot study, known as DEVICE (Diabetes Emergencies: Virtual Interactive Clinical Education), which used simulated scenarios to train junior doctors.

The results, published in the Journal of Diabetes, Science and Technology, show that the participants liked the VR training tool and found it helpful. It increased their confidence in managing diabetes emergencies.

Diabetes training for all

Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the UK. Dr Patel explains that, since it is so common, all healthcare professionals should have an understanding on how to support and deliver the basics of diabetes care.

“One in five adult inpatients across UK hospitals have diabetes. In Southampton that’s 200 patients a day. We as a specialist team cannot see and support all their diabetes care directly,” he says.

He therefore collaborated with Professor Partha Kar, Consultant in Diabetes & Endocrinology at Queen Alexandra Hospital (QAH) in Portsmouth to develop the DEVICE study, using VR headsets for diabetes training.

‘Immersive’ experience

Together with Oxford Medical Simulation, a company who build VR immersive scenarios of medical situations, they set up a study. They worked with someone living with type 1 diabetes to develop a series of scenarios, based on their combined experiences, which the company created.

They then invited 39 junior doctors, at UHS and QAH, to come and try it. They were asked to wear a VR headset for two half hour sessions, where they were presented with two virtual emergency situations with a diabetes patient. This provided a safe space to test their knowledge.

In each scenario, the doctors had to decide what they should do. They could make choices using a clicker, look at a drug chart, or ask the nurse to help give drugs or other actions.

“Because it was quite different, people came along and they loved it. Those who came really enjoyed it because it’s something they’d never done before,” Dr Patel says.

“It’s very immersive. You literally can hear the A&E cubicle noises behind you. You look around in 3D and your eyes go around the room.”

Next steps

After the success of the pilot study, the researchers have seen these scenarios used at other centres across the UK. It is hoped that they will improve awareness of diabetes and ensure more non-specialists know what to do in a diabetes emergency, especially when specialist support is not available.

Most hospitals have an education department, says Dr Patel, and many now have VR education suites. They are therefore continuing to encourage uptake by other hospitals across the UK.

They are also working on other VR cases, targeted at those working in primary care like GPs and pharmacists, as well as one for nurses. They have decided to make these courses deliverable via a laptop or desktop pc, as community-based teams are less likely to have access to a VR headset easily.

“My great aspiration would be that people would use the resource and find it helpful,” says Dr Patel. “I would hope that it would translate to better real-life clinical experience, so they feel more confident in managing the basics of diabetes.”