5 Misconceptions About Virtual Reality Training for Health Care

Virtual reality, once only a futuristic vision, is now in use by over 57 million people in the U.S. and over 171 million people worldwide. Despite its increasing prevalence, misconceptions may prevent organizations from benefiting from the unique capabilities of virtual reality training for health care.

Expensive? Difficult to use? Unclear where and when it can be advantageous? Unaware of how it can elevate education for healthcare teams? Not sure how to incorporate it into your organization?

This article will provide information about how VR education is a portable, flexible, and affordable learning modality with evidence-based applications for healthcare settings. And it’s already available. Read on for five common misconceptions.

Misconception #1: VR is expensive

Often the first consideration for any organization considering a new resource is cost, and healthcare organizations are no exception. Decision makers want to be good stewards of their organizations’ funds and always move in the right direction.

Early portrayals of VR came from entertainment, where fictional movie characters stepped into fancy machines that transported them to virtual worlds. But today, anyone can access a high-quality VR learning module with a simple headset that costs half the price of a cell phone.

Jonathan Epstein, MEMS, NRP, Head of Product and Strategy, oversees the development and deployment of VR learning at Health Scholars, which has partnered with Relias to offer VR-based education in obstetric hemorrhage as its first VR offering.

“We deploy high-quality, visually stunning applications into a headset that fits in a backpack and works with a wi-fi connection,” Epstein said.

The ROI can be considerable in terms of training outcomes. “You can put your entire staff through the OB hemorrhage training for much less than a lab-based simulation,” Epstein explained.

“Lab simulations are very effective, but it might take two years to train all your staff, and it might be cost prohibitive to put everyone through even one time. If they’re out sick that day, they don’t get in. For a fraction of the cost, we can have everyone go through a similar experience every 90 days using VR. They can practice the learning, the communication, and procedure of what to do first, second, and third. That is what makes the modality cost effective.”

And does it work? Health Scholars’ data shows that its VR-based education boosts resiliency, mitigates risk, and increases procedural acumen for learners. It does this by building learners’ procedural memory, which minimizes error and improves patient outcomes.

Misconception #2: VR is difficult to use

Headset maker Meta (formerly Oculus), had sold over 11 million VR headsets and rival Sony had sold over 5 million PlayStation VR units by the end of 2021. Analysts estimate the VR market will generate upwards of $5 billion annually and create 23 million more jobs by 2030.

With an early emphasis on gaming, these makers initially served a specific audience. But as the technology matures, audiences are expanding quickly. For Relias, the target audiences are nurses, physicians, and healthcare staff. VR will benefit anyone caring for a patient who needs to know the appropriate protocol or procedure for very specific high pressure, high risk medical scenarios.

Epstein recalls seeing early on how easily healthcare professionals took to VR technology. “During testing, I was surprised, quite honestly, by how quickly educators and learners — nurses — have taken to VR. There’s always some apprehension, there’s always someone who says, ‘It’s not for me. I’ll get dizzy or sick.’ But in reality — the excitement when someone puts the headset on — it actually surprised me how receptive staff were, regardless of age and experience.”

“We have nurses with 20 plus years of experience and nurses just out of school — all demographics. Watching the ‘Wow, this is so cool!’ or ‘Wow, I can do this, I can use VR!’ moments was an early surprise. I thought it would be harder to get them to want to use the technology, that they might be scared of it. But it’s been the opposite,” he observed.

Notable features of the Health Scholars VR product offered by Relias are that it is voice-directed and self-directed. The learner uses voice commands and completes the training individually. Not only does this make it easy, but it provides a psychologically safe environment where learners can make mistakes and learn correct procedure.

Because it is still a newer modality, often the challenges involve learning how to use and clean the headsets, navigate to the application, connect to wi-fi, and understanding how much physical space you need and how long it takes to complete the module. For these details, Health Scholars provides VR 101 so leaders know how to deploy the application. “Once they’re in the app,” Epstein says, “they end up doing really well and immersing themselves in the environments.”

Misconception #3: VR doesn’t benefit my healthcare organization

One of the key benefits of VR is that it builds the confidence of providers and clinicians beyond lesson-based digital learning courses. The VR module adds a “capstone” component that follows assessment and other course content. Learners can synthesize and apply what they’ve learned in a real-world immersive setting to create a robust and holistic curriculum.

Healthcare leaders agree that the longstanding problem of providing equitable care to all patients, regardless of who or where they are, has been a difficult challenge nationwide. Inequities  often result from social determinants and unintentional variation in care that can lead to inequitable outcomes.

VR provides a mode of learning that could help overcome some of these inequities by intentionally and routinely providing realistic depictions of diverse patients and scenarios. When clinicians encounter them in real life, they will be more likely to provide high-quality care to every patient consistently and objectively.

“Women of color are dying of obstetric complications such as obstetric hemorrhage at a much higher rate nationally than other groups, and overall, the United States has a really a poor track record,” observed Epstein. “This is a real-world problem that we could actually help solve through VR.”

Learning retention is possibly the most important benefit of VR, which comes with the high engagement or “fun factor” that learners enjoy. Organizations can see learners’ readiness scores within the VR training data.

Aggregated data from Health Scholars and Relias is still in the collection phase. Anecdotal reports indicate that a large majority of learners increase their readiness scores. Epstein looks forward to helping facilitate longitudinal studies. Research has already shown that VR education improves outcomes and can have a greater reach than other learning modes.

Misconception #4: It’s unclear how VR improves on the digital learning we already have

If they have a solid education program already in place, healthcare leaders may ask how VR can significantly increase learning outcomes. The answer comes from research. VR provides a dimension of learning effectiveness that complements other digital learning media in the following ways:

  • Active learning Purdue University cited a study from IntechOpen that found that immersive VR simulations in nursing education give students experience in clinical decision-making, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, management, and problem-solving, all without endangering patients. Instead of telling or showing someone what to do, they do it.
  • Portability and scalability — The pandemic reinforced the fact that in-person, group training is not always possible. Virtual learning can provide a close-to-reality experience that can take place anywhere, with any number of learners. HealthTech reported that 65% of nursing programs now use VR. Many began during the pandemic and continue due to their success.
  • Spatial learning — Because of its immersive, simulated environment, VR provides spatial awareness that mimics what a clinician might encounter. A study from Future Healthcare Journal discussed the advantages of VR’s three-dimensional depiction over screen-based learning. VR provides a more realistic sense of “being there” that carries over into real life practice through procedural memory.
  • Urgency and timing —The same Future Healthcare Journal study noted that “the bustle of a virtual hospital and emotional engagement with emergency scenarios and lifelike characters in real time builds a sense of stress.” Learners must prepare to react within timeframes that would be required in similar real-life scenarios.
  • Inclusiveness — VR can also advance inclusive practices that could help diverse patient populations receive better care. For example, patient skin tones can be changed to help teach clinicians how various conditions can present differently in patients. These variations cannot easily be shown using mannequins in a simulation lab.

Misconception #5: It would be hard to add VR to my organization’s education platform

Health Scholars offers VR education that addresses patient care scenarios. All of its products have a caregiver point-of-view; meaning, the learner is providing care to a patient.

Other VR applications assist therapeutic providers in providing behavioral and mental health care directly to patients. In these, the patient wears the headset. A third category of VR applications teaches providers how to use surgical technology or equipment.

Health Scholars and Relias provide modules that align specifically with the healthcare education that Relias already provides and extends digital learning for nurses and physicians. Research has shown that VR learning is more likely to lead to clinical practice improvement.

Epstein has also seen how VR can change minds whenever he demonstrates the product. “It’s such a wonderful product to talk about. We love showing it to folks. When they get the headset on, they understand why the feedback has been fantastic.”

Elizabeth Snively

Content Marketing Manager, Relias

Elizabeth Snively has over two decades of strategic communications experience in the technology, higher education, and healthcare sectors, specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion. She currently writes about topics that drive healthcare decision makers. She has a B.A. in English and design from Stanford University and an M.A. in digital communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Subscribe to Relias’ Impact Blog

Get the latest articles straight to your inbox and better navigate the ever-changing healthcare landscape.

Connect with Us

to find out more about our training and resources