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March 9, 2018

Virtual reality enlightens medical students about end-of-life care

Courtesy / University of New England University of New England students are shown here using the “We are Alfred” virtual-reality simulation to experience hearing and vision loss from the perspective of an older patient named Alfred. It was developed by California start-up Embodied Labs, which is working on an end-of-life simulation based on what it learned and observed at the Hospice of Southern Maine in Scarborough.

A virtual reality simulation due out this spring will put users in the shoes of a patient undergoing hospice care and of those looking after the patient.

The simulation, intended as a teaching tool for medical students and health care professionals, is being developed by a California firm, using what it observed at the Hospice of Southern Maine Gosnell Memorial Hospice House.

The firm, called Embodied Labs sent a team to the Scarborough facility for two days to observe conversations between patients, their families and hospice staff, and learn about the physical, emotional and spiritual support given to patients.

“Spending time with the care team, families and patients allowed us to shape the dialogue and trajectory of the script for the 360-degree film that we create when we make an Embodied Lab,” said Erin Washington, Embodied Labs’ co-founder and head of customer experience, in an email.

Embodied Labs chose the Hospice of Southern Maine at the recommendation of the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, which uses its “We are Alfred” tool on campus.

Using specialized laptops, motion sensors, goggles and software in the Biddeford campus library, students experience what it’s like to be an older adult named Alfred, who suffers from hearing and vision loss. The lab is a requirement for all first-year medical students.

UNE also has a 48-hour immersion program for students at the Hospice of Southern Maine Gosnell Memorial Hospice House that gives students the opportunity to live and work at the in-patient facility alongside staff and volunteers providing patient care, family support and post-mortem care.

“I don’t know of another project in the world like it,” Marilyn R. Gugliucci, professor and director of geriatrics education and research at UNE, told Mainebiz.

Teaching through technology

With the tool it’s working on, Embodied Labs hopes to bring that same experience to health care institutions and universities around the country based on what it learned at the Hospice of Southern Maine

Washington said the team is working with the Florida Metropolitan Research Consortium to create other aspects of the lab, including an interactive module where learners can assume the roles of different care team members.

The team will shoot film footage this month and then take another couple of months to do post production, aiming for a spring release on its platform.

Daryl J. Cady, CEO of the Hospice of Southern Maine, said she hopes the tool will help medical professionals and those entering the field provide better care, as well as empower hospice patients and their families.

“We would love to be able to include the virtual experience in staff training, and for patients and their families,” Cady said. “We hope we can somehow partner with Embodied Labs to bring it to us as well.”

She added that it was a “fabulous experience” to work with Embodied Labs despite her initial doubts.

“Going into it, I wasn’t convinced that virtual reality was viable method of teaching something like this,” she said, “and I came out of it a believer.”

The global market for augmented and virtual reality in health care was valued at $769.2 million in 2017 and is expected to reach nearly $5 billion by 2023, according to a report that came out last month.

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