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Coventry University Experts Creating Virtual Reality Patients That Health Students Can Touch

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Simulation and health experts at  Coventry University are working to create simulated patients that students can touch in virtual reality. 

The university is at the forefront of exploring Virtual Simulated Placements (VSPs) to enable the training of more health professionals. 

This new work involves haptics, the science of touch. Marc Gilbey, an Coventry University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences assistant professor and a Centre for Healthcare Research researcher, led it. 

Drawing from his experiences in education and practice as a physiotherapist, he says it is not always possible or safe for students to encounter patients with serious diseases and injuries. 

That inspired him to pursue a PhD in haptics and work with Coventry University’s healthcare simulation team to support their work with VSPs. 

Together they hope to create a virtual clinical world with physical touch interactions, made possible by a haptic glove, that will help students learn medical interactions that they will use in their graduate roles. 

Marc said: “At the minute, if you talk to people about how they interact in the virtual world, they will talk to you about triggers or buttons, but in the real world, we don’t push buttons or triggers when we touch our patients.  

“We use many different types of touch and hand positions to replicate manoeuvres we want to do on our patients. We can’t do that at the minute in extended reality. That is where haptic technology and gloves allow us to utilise virtual reality and our physical motion to create the two. 

“This research is hopefully the start of something special.” 

Insights from the start of his research project show a need and want for haptic technology to be used in healthcare education. 

Dr Natasha Taylor, curriculum lead and associate professor for Simulation at Coventry University, said: “We are creating a new virtual interactive clinical environment which will be informed by our curriculum and utilise Marc’s work with haptic technology. 

“We plan to use gloves to mimic the use of your hands in the virtual world and perform simple interactive tasks that need physical interaction; for example, taking a pulse. 

“This development could change the face of healthcare education by giving us the ability to provide a more innovative placement opportunity and develop more patient-ready health professionals, many of whom will go on to boost the NHS workforce.”  

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