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Virtual Reality Can Be Adapted to Tackle Social Determinants of Health

Virtual reality (VR) (computer-produced settings where objects and scenes seem to be real, making users feel they are engrossed in their surroundings), is not merely used for fun and games anymore. Applications include business, military training, entertainment, and education.

Virtual Reality Can Be Adapted to Tackle Social Determinants of Health.

Image Credit: TierneyMJ

In the field of medicine, VR technology offers educators a way to simplify obstacles that may exist such as scheduling, physical locations, and making representative scenarios for students to develop their clinical experience.

Recently, a new Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) study, reported in the journal Academic Medicine, presents the viability of using VR technology to concentrate on strategies for looking into social determinants of health (SDOH) using an interprofessional technique.

The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has acknowledged the importance of training future physicians to identify and address SDOH, however medical students and physician assistants often lack this training. Social workers, meanwhile, have extensive SDOH training, however, few medical professionals have opportunities to engage in inter-professional training with social workers.

Pablo Buitron de la Vega, MD, MSc, Corresponding Author and Assistant Professor of Medicine, BUSM

To test the scholastic influence of this emerging learning technology, physician assistant (PA), medical (MD), and social work (SW) students were engaged in VR simulated learning environments (SLEs) to learn how to look into SDOH collectively. PA and MD students learned patient engagement approaches from SW students, while the SW students improved their healthcare leadership capability.

All three groups of students found this kind of learning acceptable, appreciating the hands-on VR inter-professional training and communicating interest in addition to learning more about the scope of one another’s role and community resources accessible to patients.

According to Buitron de la Vega, this research not only intended to enhance the ability of medical students to screen for SDOH but also to help nurture an inter-professional partnership between domains and a better understanding of the different roles essential to a comprehensive healthcare team.

Increased adoption of VR during the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased the cost associated with this type of technology and has made this a more realistic learning model for health professional schools to adopt in the future.

Pablo Buitron de la Vega, MD, MSc, Corresponding Author and Assistant Professor of Medicine, BUSM

The Digital Learning & Innovation Office at Boston University offered financial and in-kind support for this research.

Journal Reference:

De La Vega, B., et al. (2022) Virtual Reality Simulated Learning Environments: A Strategy To Teach Interprofessional Students About Social Determinants Of Health. Academic Medicine.

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