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Gaming Technology Improves Learning for Nursing Students

Boise State’s School of Nursing and Department of Computer Science teamed up to present a new virtual reality system for medical training. The system uses Oculus Rift and a custom haptic (manipulation through touch) system similar to popular video game technology to give nursing students practice on common medical procedures.

The system was created by a development team headed by Anthony Ellertson, associate research professor in the Department of Computer Science, in conjunction with the College of Innovation and Design and the Division of Research and Economic Development.

Allowing nursing students to realistically work with patients and equipment in a virtual environment promises to significantly impact how nursing and medical training are carried out in both higher education and clinical institutions.

“It used to be we had more time at the bedside, but now patients have shorter hospital stays and there are fewer clinical opportunities,” said Ann Butt, clinical assistant professor of nursing. “So a lot of clinical training is being replaced with simulations.”

The new wearable technology enables a student to see and interact with (touch, hold or grip) objects in the virtual environment, allowing for complex simulations with significant cost savings compared to more standard training.

Those often involve using special testing equipment or medical manikins, which are very expensive. A simulation manikin, for instance, can cost more than $15,000. In contrast, the virtual reality technology costs about $1,800 per player, and new “games” can be created in four to six months.

The simulation walks students through a virtual environment and scores them on how well they complete a series of tasks, including sterilizing their environment, as well as on how quickly they complete them.

While the system will initially be used to train students in a single medical procedure, it could eventually be expanded to include medication error training or situations where medical teams from several disciplines work together in a simulated Code Blue emergency.