Virtual Reality Opens New HTM Training Opportunities

Posted June 3, 2018

Virtual RealityWith the influx of new technologies into the healthcare environment, the need for a wide range of troubleshooting skills is rapidly increasing, However, sending staff for hands-on vendor training can be cost prohibitive for many healthcare technology management (HTM) departments.

For Connecticut-based Hartford HealthCare, virtual reality (VR) training provided at its facility was a solution to this challenge, offering realistic telemetry troubleshooting in a stress-free environment and providing a more cost-effective alternative to off-site vendor training.

"You feel like you've been there before," said Michael Ballintyn, a clinical engineer for Hartford Healthcare, referring to the effectiveness of the VR training in preparing him for real-world telemetry troubleshooting scenarios.

Ballintyn and fellow clinical engineer Sean Frenette shared their experiences with VR telemetry training Sunday morning during the AAMI 2018 Conference & Expo in Long Beach, CA. The two were joined by Rick Sidlo, education manager for technical training at GE Healthcare. GE worked with Modest Tree, a company offering augmented reality, VR, and other learning modalities, to develop the training Ballintyn and Frenette received.

On-site telemetry training is generally hindered by highly regulated frequency ranges, Sidlo explained. So, a solution was needed that would not interfere with telemetry communication or interrupt patient safety. Further, he said, buying and building a telemetry board for training purposes would be costly and impractical.

By creating a virtual world that is independent from actual patients and telemetry systems, the VR training is able to bypass these challenges. The virtual world, however, remains realistic and life-like, allowing for interaction among devices. It also allows different telemetry training configurations to be set up, yielding a more personalized educational experience.

"The training allows you to simulate cause and effect, or the emotional experience of troubleshooting these complex systems," said Ballintyn. "I found it beneficial and calming to interact with the system in the virtual room experience. You can test out different approaches and know that they won't actually be disruptive. You're not going to be able to 'blow up' anything."

Sidlo described how the VR training enables nonlinear troubleshooting scenarios.

"The answer isn't always the same, so it's realistic troubleshooting that helps develop the user's thought processes," he said. "The training also randomizes activities, which means that each trainee will get the opportunity to experience different versions of a scenario."

The VR training is combined with classroom activities. In the case of Hartford HealthCare, this allowed Ballintyn and Frenette to collaborate on finding solutions to different troubleshooting scenarios.

In addition to troubleshooting real issues in HTM professionals' own environment, VR technology offers great promise for future uses, according to the presenters. For example, VR could be used to plan equipment upgrades and to understand the impact of bringing in new technology on the care environment.

Hospital-owned, manufacturer-agnostic VR platforms also could give HTM and other health professionals a multitude of on-site continuing education opportunities, creating a blank canvas through which different vendors could offer effective training solutions in a nondisruptive setting.

VR training, according to the presenters, is one way that healthcare can more effectively leverage rapid advancements in health technology and, in turn, deliver cutting-edge patient care.