Why Virtual Reality Enhances Home Health Care Simulation Training – A Neuroscience Perspective
The need for high-quality home health care is growing. Whether for a family whose child has special needs, for a patient in need of intensive rehabilitation, or for a senior struggling to age-in-place safely, having highly trained personal health aides will be critical to home health care’s ability to meet ever-increasing demand challenges over the long term.
To adequately prepare, home health care professionals must gain extensive knowledge around relevant pediatric conditions, rehabilitation approaches and some of the cognitive, emotional and physical challenges associated with normal aging. Additionally, workers must be well versed on these topics so that they can communicate with their patients and their families.
Although knowledge is critical to home health care success, the more important litmus test for success is behavioral performance. It is one thing to know “what” to do, and to have the ability to verbalize the appropriate steps to achieve some specific aim, but it is entirely another to know “how” to do it, and to generate the appropriate behaviors in the correct sequence quickly and accurately.
In addition to mastering the appropriate behavioral repertoire, one must also be able to generate these behaviors under time or social pressure, or under suboptimal conditions, such as during a power outage, or when some medicine or medical tools are absent. In other words, one wants to obtain behavioral situational awareness. Behavioral situational awareness requires extensive behavioral practice, under a broad range of emotionally charged situations.
What to do and how to do it
Knowing what to do is mediated by the cognitive skills learning system in the brain that relies on working memory and attention in the prefrontal cortex. Knowing how to do it across a broad-range of situations requires simultaneous recruitment of the behavioral skills learning system in the brain that relies on gradual, incremental dopamine-mediated development of “muscle memory” in the striatum, the emotional learning system in the brain that relies on the amygdala and other limbic structures, and the experiential learning system that represents the sights, sounds, smells and touches of a situation that must be linked with behavior (relying on the occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes of the brain).
Traditional approaches to home health care training start with textbook and classroom study, then later introduce real-world practice through simulation. The textbook and classroom training teach what you need to know (via the cognitive skills learning system in the brain), but it is the simulation training that teaches you how to do what you need to do (behavioral learning in the brain), across a broad-range of contexts and emotionally charged situations (emotional and experiential learning in the brain).
Recent advances in simulation
The home health care simulation industry has blossomed over the past several years. The use of cutting-edge technologies allows home health care professionals to train under realistic patient emergencies that are simulated with state-of-the-art mannequins that present realistic symptoms. Life-like anatomy, realistic sounds, and clinical functionality are the modern-day norm. Simulation training is as realistic as it can get.
Although these advances in the quality of simulation training are exciting, it is still the case that simulation training is time intensive, costly, and is not scalable. It is difficult to get trainees into the simulation labs and it is even more cumbersome to attempt to pack up a simulator and transport it from location to location.
This is where “virtual simulation” using virtual reality (VR) technology offers an ideal complement to traditional simulation-based training. VR can provide the just-in-time refreshers that home health care professionals need when and where they need it — and ultimately, to become proficient and master critical skills.
Advantages of virtual simulation
Like physical simulation facilities, VR broadly engages cognitive, behavioral, emotional and experiential learning systems in the brain in synchrony. Relative to simulation training, VR training is cost-effective, time-effective, and scalable. This allows the learner to obtain essentially limitless training on a broad array of challenging situations in a safe environment; anytime, and anywhere
One can train on routine situations such as caring and maintaining a breathing tube, conducting daily rehabilitation sessions, or administering medications. At the same time, one can train on non-routine situations such as one when a patient is in life-threatening distress, a power outage occurs, or a senior has fallen and hit their head. All of these situations can be trained under time pressure or under no time pressure, in loud and chaotic environments versus those free of distraction, or with adequate or inadequate preparation and equipment.
Virtual simulation with VR can provide the complement to real-world simulation training that is needed to keep home health care professionals at the top of their game and ready to take on any challenge. VR is available 24/7 and is highly scalable. It provides those just-in-time refreshers that professionals need. VR speeds the development of proficiency and mastery—one experience at a time.