Utilising virtual environment radiotherapy training has helped one trust develop and improve learning and knowledge in different departments across the trust, as Dean Garnham and colleagues explain.

Over the past 18 months a working group from Ipswich Hospital Trust radiotherapy department have we have been investigating ways to extend the use of virtual environment radiotherapy training (VERT).

The National Cancer Action Team provided us with a portable VERT system and the following question: “How can VERT be used to advance clinical practice and enhance interprofessional development?”. Here we look at ways in which the system can be used, and how we answered the research question.

When VERT (and the research title!)  arrived in the department a working group was set up. This included a physicist, clinical lecturer, and a radiographer with an interest in IT and new technologies.

Initially the plan was to look at the research title alone and fulfill that remit before branching out into wider uses, however once the system was being used a number of other opportunities presented themselves, so the team took these forward alongside the ongoing investigation of the research question.

Key activities 

VERT was used to provide an introduction to radiotherapy to staff from other departments that have contact with radiotherapy patients. Tthe presentation described what prostate, breast and head neck patients could expect when they received radiotherapy treatment.

  • Before the presentation a broad range of responses were obtained when asked what the three most common radiotherapy treatment sites are
  • After the presentation all responses were correct and respondents seemed happier at discussing the treatment process with patients

Prospective undergraduate students were introduced to radiotherapy and the available careers using VERT. Before presenting to two groups of GCSE students a questionnaire was sent out:

  • All 26 knew what cancer is and that breast cancer is the most common female cancer;
  • 22 knew prostate cancer is the most common male cancer;
  • only three knew what radiotherapy is;
  • one knew how X-rays were produced.

After the presentation the same questionnaire was sent out:

  • 13 knew what radiotherapy is;
  • 17 knew how X-rays were produced.

The system has since been used to deliver focused GCSE teaching sessions to a number of student groups of varying abilities. During GCSE sessions students are also made aware of the various careers available within the oncology department.

Patient and relative open events give them the opportunity to use VERT and discuss any questions they have about radiotherapy in general. Any specific questions are directed to the relevant staff.

  • Success of these events in our department was assessed using a questionnaire;
  • Twenty one responses were received from patients and relatives and all said that their understanding of the treatment process had improved and they would all recommend this session to other patients/relatives;
  • Other comments included “very well worth the time spent”, “It takes away the ‘fear of the unknown”.

What was learnt:

  • Initially setting up the various sessions and presentations for use with VERT takes a considerable amount of time, however it should be noted that once the sessions are created they can be adapted to a number of scenarios
  • VERT can be used to advance clinical practice and enhance interprofessional working
  • VERT can be used to raise the profile of radiotherapy to a wide range of individuals and groups, including school children, patients, relatives, and other healthcare professionals

All these events have enabled the people involved to gain valuable experiences including:

  • Presenting and teaching at a level appropriate to the audience.
  • For physicists hands on experience working with patients

Although VERT was well received by the above groups introduced to it, it has not always been easy to ensure we have the space to use it. The events we have used the system for have meant groups of between two and 15 people have been using the system at one time.

Patient and relative open events

  • Two hour drop in sessions are advertised across the department, in the John LeVay Cancer Information Centre, chemotherapy clinics, waiting areas, and through MacMillan radiographers via display screens, posters and leaflets.
  • A short introduction using a typical plan, for example a simple prostateplan, is given mainly for the benefit of relatives and any new patients.
  • The patients and relatives are then given the chance to ask any questions they may have.

Directorate eEducation

  • Questionnaires were used to assess the level of understanding of rRadiotherapy across the directorate.
  • A presentation was prepared and delivered highlighting the patient pathway for prostate, breast and head and neck patients.
  • Those who attended the presentation were asked to repeat the questionnaire to see if the presentation had improved the understanding of radiotherapy

Planned activities

Future plans for VERT include a continuation of both the patient drop in sessions once a month, and the GCSE educational sessions. Further schools within the area have been in contact and a rolling programme of lessons is likely to develop.

In the near future a session is to be developed for GP practices to once again raise the profile of radiotherapy, and help to fill any knowledge gaps for staff outside of the hospital setting.

Within our own trust we plan to set up sessions introducing other professionals to radiotherapy, and VERT, to raise understanding of radiotherapy among the wider healthcare community.

VERT has become an integral part of our radiotherapy department and as such we are about to move the system into a dedicated work space so we can utilise it further, and accommodate the ever expanding groups that wish to utilise it.

Initially the system needs to be purchased, but we believe the benefits far outweigh the cost. Much can be achieved with a little forethought and hard work.

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