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Virtual reality patients that students can ‘touch’

Simulation and health experts at Coventry University are working together 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 the use of haptics – the science of touch – and is led by Marc Gilbey, an Assistant Professor in Coventry University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and a researcher in the Centre for Healthcare Research.

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 a lot of 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 and that is where haptic technology and haptic gloves give us the ability to utilise virtual reality and our own physical motion to create the two.

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

Insights from the start of his research project shows 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.

“Our plan is 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.”

Find out more about starting your career in health at Coventry University.

About Coventry University

Coventry University is a global, modern university with a mission of Creating Better Futures. We were founded by entrepreneurs and industrialists in 1843 as the Coventry School of Design and we continue to have strong links with the public and private sector, providing job-ready graduates with the skills and creative thinking to improve their communities.

With a proud tradition of innovative teaching and learning, Coventry University has world-class campus facilities, the UK’s first standalone 5G network and a digital community of learning. Our students are part of a global network that has 50,000 learners studying Coventry University degrees in more than 40 different countries and partnerships with 140 higher education providers worldwide.

We have greatly increased our research capacity and capability with a focus on impactful research, delivered for and with partners to address real-world challenges and support business and communities to grow. The depth and breadth of rapidly growing research portfolio was validated by the latest UK research assessment, which saw us jump 22 places in the research power rankings.

Over two centuries, we have flourished in Coventry and Coventry University Group now also delivers access to our range of high-quality services and partnerships through bases in London, Scarborough, Belgium, Poland, Egypt, Dubai, Singapore and Africa. We will be teaching students at a new campus in China in a joint institute with the Communication University of China in the near future.

In April 2022, we were honoured with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category of International Trade, the UK’s most prestigious business award. In recent years, we have won many awards and vastly improved our rankings in the league tables that matter to students – but what matters to us is delivering transformational change for our students, partners and communities around the world as we continue to evolve into a global education group.

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