NHS England launches extended reality training to support perinatal mental health learners

NHS England has launched a new immersive method of training to support healthcare learners to expand their skills when interacting with people with perinatal mental health problems.

Using extended reality (XR) technology, learners are taken through a series of instructor-driven simulations, to interact with a virtual patient.

The patient avatar Stacey was developed by Health Education England and Fracture Reality to support learners practice in their own clinical setting as well as virtual reality, offering students the chance to experience interacting with the patient avatar in their own home or other clinical settings.

NHS England said that the development is being introduced to support learners in building their skills to “engage and communicate effectively with patients to determine the severity of their condition and make appropriate interventions” and because there are “limited opportunities for learners to practice these skills in a safe learning environment”.

The project is said to provide learners with an immersive simulated experience that allows them to have “realistic and natural conversations”.

The Centre for Immersive Technologies at the University of Leeds has evaluated the training experience, with over 100 participants supporting their study. The study has shown the method of training is highly usable and useful for learners and educators, with participants showing significant improvements in cognitive and emotional understanding. Across all participants almost four out of five (79 percent) learners said they preferred this simulation training over traditional approaches.

Rebecca Burgess-Dawson, national clinical lead for mental health at Health Education England, said: “Stacey provides students and learners with a wealth of scenarios that they may encounter while they are working in a clinical setting, all in a natural and realistic way. The potential impact that she has on perinatal mental health training is enormous and she will have a real benefit for learners in gaining the practice and skills they need for future patients they treat.”

Dr Faisal Mushtaq, director of the centre for immersive technologies, added: “This project is significant because it demonstrates how these technologies can help people deal with difficult emotionally challenging conversations that can arise in mental health consultations. This is a big step forward for using XR to support learning and skill acquisition.”

The training simulations have been built in and delivered via Fracture Reality’s JoinXR platform for use with Microsoft Hololens2, HTC Focus 3, Meta Quest 2 & Pro and Windows 10.

For an example of the technology in action, watch the overview video below: