Healthcare Workers Turn To Virtual Reality Amid Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way medical professionals are getting their training, expediting the use of virtual technology at two west suburban hospitals.

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Due to physical distancing and mask requirements, medical training with hired actors halted in March at Northwestern’s Delnor and Central DuPage Hospitals.

But with virtual technology, clinicians are able to immerse themselves in just about any scenario.

Whether it’s an emergency room, operating room or an exact replica of the hospital, front-line workers have a variety of real-world situations they train in, including patients showing symptoms of the coronavirus.

The virtual patient can be programmed by gender, race or age.

“It really affords us the opportunity to maintain that distancing as well as the opportunity to maintain our masks while we’re learning,” said program director of simulation Michelle Olech Smith. “Ultimately, the translation from learning to practice is pretty significant.”

Nurses like Kristin Rafferty of Central DuPage Hospital are among the first to go through the virtual reality training.

“It was very real. I had a doctor pop up right behind me, and I had a conversation with him about orders and how to treat the patient,” said Rafferty. “We got real-time vitals on an actual screen in the virtual reality room.”

The program is also training medical professionals in high risk scenarios, like sexual assault cases.

“That really prepares nurses for forensic exams of patients,” said Smith.

Smith adds that virtual reality will be used on patients in the near future to understand their diagnosis and teach them self-care.

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