Nursing shortages spurs former video game developers into action

New app and virtual reality help health authorities train up new nurses amidst shortages

A new app and VR looks to help alleviate the chronic problem of nurse staffing shortages. | Submitted

In May of this year, B.C. Children’s Hospital closed two of its eight operating rooms due to nursing shortages.

Part of the problem stemmed from the amount of time it takes to train nurses and get them up to speed concerning various operating procedures. Nursing shortages have long caused headaches for health authorities, periodically sending them into a training frenzy to get numbers up to sufficient levels.

It’s estimated it can take six months to properly train a scrub nurse by gaining operating room skills through double scrubbing with an experienced nurse and rotating through each service, which can also be expensive. The Association of Registered Nurses of British Columbia highlighted the strain on nurses, finding as many as 40% leave the profession within ten years, partially due to lack of mentoring stemming from nursing shortages.

Head back two years and Angela Robert, the CEO and founder of Conquer Mobile, a Surrey-based health tech company that specializes in medical education solutions, met with a few people on the cutting edge of integrating virtual reality into health care.

Neurosurgeon Dr. David Clarke and neuroscientist Dr. Ryan D’Arcy had successfully completed the first brain surgery using NeuroTouch in Halifax in 2009. D’Arcy, who is now a professor and BC Leadership Chair in Medical Technologies for Simon Fraser University and the head of Health Sciences & Innovation at Fraser Health met Dr. James Bond when he came to the west coast. They concluded simulation could be a great way to train perioperative nurses and surgery residents, and set out to find the right fit. D’Arcy spoke to  James Bond, the chief of Thoracic Surgery at the Surrey Memorial Hospital who reached out to Robert, asking them if they could look into creating the VR—because of her unique background.

“They were actually looking for people with video gaming experience,” said Robert. Having worked for Electronic Arts Canada as a software engineer and development manager, Robert saw a chance to develop an app and virtual reality that would help train nurses without actually having to get them into the operating room. The key to the app was its usability, something the gaming industry thrives on.

“What instruments to pass to the surgeon was a big training problem,” added Robert. “We have quite a few team members that have worked at Electronic Arts building simulation sports video games. As a company, user experience that increases the human spirit has always been high priority and creating an engaging training product is what we’ve been trained to do.”

Enter PeriopSim, now used by over 200 facilities from Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. The app and accompanying full virtual reality version looks to cut training times in half.

Kit Mitchell, the manager of Perioperative Education and Simulation Strategy for Vancouver Coastal Health said the app and VR helps nurses learn the instruments and tools without the added stress of being in the operating room during an actual surgery.

“Simulation training offers the opportunity to prepare nurses before they go into clinical placements. Our aim is to use simulation to boost our existing training programs and train more nurses, more quickly.”