Doyon receives a grant for health care and virtual reality research

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The University of Utah’s VR4 Health Sciences Education program recently awarded its first $100,000 grant to School of Nursing associate professor Kate Doyon and her co-researchers Nancy Allen and Julie Gee, two associate professors at the College of Nursing at the University of Utah.

Associate Professor Kate Doyon

The grant benefits healthcare students through the use of virtual reality. It is the product of a collaboration between the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library and the Therapeutic Games & Applications Lab at the University of Utah.

Doyon’s research team proposed to design technology that teaches providers about a range of non-healthcare barriers that patients may face when trying to follow a prescribed plan of care.

“As suppliers, we need to know what the barriers and facilitators are to getting [patients] on a care plan,” she said. “It should be common to ask the patient to talk about their world.”

But often, providers are simply not aware of these barriers; it is not common practice to ask patients about non-healthcare factors that have a significant impact on their ability to follow a treatment plan, such as access to transportation, healthy products, or space to exercise.

Doyon hopes their program can change that.

“Ultimately, a plan has to be patient-centered,” she said.

Otherwise, patients may be unfairly flagged as non-compliant with their treatment plans. In reality, there may be forces beyond the patient’s control that interfere with their ability to comply.

A nursing student practices with a virtual reality system.
A 2016 nursing student practices with a virtual reality system developed at Boise State.

Virtual reality scenarios will put students in the shoes of a patient who is having difficulty following a care plan due to such factors as not having a nearby pharmacy or a quiet place at home to retrieve.

As healthcare students become more aware of barriers inside and outside the home, they will be able to develop better treatment plans and effectively become better providers. .

One of the most exciting aspects of the project for Doyon is that it is “interdisciplinary on a much larger scale.”

In addition to interagency efforts by Boise State and the University of Utah, the pilot program will engage students in medicine, dentistry, nursing and social work. And while Doyon, Allen, and Gee bring a wealth of nursing, curriculum, and research experience to the project, the Therapeutic Games & Applications Lab’s virtual reality team will design and code the program.

“It’s always fun to work with people outside of healthcare,” Doyon said. “We are all trained to solve problems so differently.”

As this is her first VR research, Doyon is particularly keen to learn about the capabilities of the technology.

“The more we can make the [virtual reality]the more impact we can have,” she said.

Although the grant is funding a year of research, the team is optimistic about the project’s results and hopes to apply for additional funding from the National Institutes of Health in the future.

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