This university is using VR to reinvent kidney dialysis training

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University have developed an innovative virtual reality tool to revolutionise specialist healthcare training

A Scottish higher education institute is using technology to transform the way nurses, patients and their families learn about kidney dialysis.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have developed a ground-breaking virtual reality (VR) tool that simulates dialysis – a medical procedure that removes waste products and excess fluid from the blood when the kidneys stop working properly, often involving the diversion of blood through a machine so it can be cleaned.

Professor Vassilis Charissis, who is leading the project at GCU, commented: “Dialysis is the process by which a patient is kept alive when their kidneys stop functioning. The duration of such therapy can be years for some patients as they wait for a suitable transplant.

“For younger patients and their families,” he added, “this is an extremely stressful time as they usually have very limited exposure to dialysis as a process, or to dialysis-experienced peers. This makes informed decision-making difficult and provokes anxieties in families about the choice of a dialysis method, and how they may cope with home-based therapies.”

The 12-month project, launched in partnership with the NHS and funded by Kidney Research UK, will explore the capabilities of the new training system, which will allow patients, families and medical representatives to experience the process of dialysis in a safe, virtual environment. This will be particularly useful for younger patients and their respective families who are intending to undertake home-based therapies.

Experts at GCU are working on the VR application that simulates a dialysis machine and its associated equipment, as well as the procedure in its entirety, via a virtual patient. Not only would this allow families to undertake training at their own pace at home, but it also gives them a chance to experience what the procedure itself would entail. The app can provide feedback such as warnings via flashing lights, alarms, or vibrations.

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The system is supposed to be used alongside existing training measures, reducing the duration of inpatient education delivery and the frequency of outpatient educational visits. It can also recreate potential adverse scenarios virtually, preparing users for complications that can impact the procedure, but may not be routinely encountered in real-life training.

The project will be trialled and refined with assistance from specialist NHS staff under the lead of Dr Ben Reynolds, consultant nephrologist, at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.

“For patients facing renal replacement, this system could provide a fully interactive and immersive manual, guiding them through their options for treatment, supporting informed consent, training them through the early stages of the procedure if they opt to receive treatment at home, as well as acting as a reminder during the process and when troubleshooting of dialysis equipment is required,” Professor Charissis added.

While they intend to streamline the system for the most vulnerable patients first, said Professor Charissis, researchers hope to expand the application for the benefit of the entire renal patient population.

The tool offers subtitles in various languages, and allows users to choose between different dialysis methods so they can make an informed choice on which is best suited to them.

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