Interactive Visualisation at Birmingham City University
2008 saw the national roll out by the Department of Health of a revolutionary approach to radiotherapy training. Called VERT, and drawing on Virtual Reality (VR) technology from Virtalis, it has been successfully installed in 10 universities and dozens of cancer centres all over England. Birmingham City University was a development partner on VERT and one of the first to have the system installed and is now putting the system to far more varied uses than it originally anticipated.
Mark Holland is a Radiographer and Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University. He explained: “The basic idea behind VERT, that students can train and experiment in a risk-free, life-like environment, without tying up actual radiotherapy treatment rooms, can’t be faulted. Radiotherapy training has changed hugely over the last five years, even though students still spend 50% of their time shadowing real radiotherapy procedures. A bigger emphasis on virtual training will improve a patient’s experience, as it will lead to fewer people in the room. Already we are finding our VR theatre more useful than we ever imagined originally. Without the Virtalis StereoWorks system, VERT would be just 2D software, but with it, it is transformed into an immersive, life-like, stereoscopic 3D experience.”
Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training, or VERT, is award winning, specialist software designed to offer training for radiotherapy students, nurses and existing staff. It was developed by Prof. Roger Phillips and James Ward from the University of Hull and Prof. Andy Beavis of the Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. Now VERT is being developed and supplied by a spin out company, Vertual Limited. However, for the software to give the level of realism it was designed to provide, it needs a VR stereoscopic 3D visualisation system. Virtalis, Europe’s leading VR company, is Vertual’s supplier of the visualisation equipment for VERT. Virtalis installed and provided training for its StereoWorks ActiveWall tracked system at Birmingham City University.
“Radiotherapy is a worrying, stressful experience for patients”, said Mark, “so to help prepare them and explain exactly what is going to happen, we now have the option to take our patients into our VR theatre and let them experience the radiotherapy treatment room virtually. Similarly, there are some things, like anatomy, that are hard to explain in the lecture theatre, but using VR makes some concepts immediately graspable. Our VERT system can even do things that real life radiotherapy machines can’t. For example, it can visualise how beams of radiation travel within the body and how this affects the distribution of the dose. Our course has now altered to take advantage of VERT, so that we do one week of lectures followed by a week applying what the students have learnt in our VR theatre. Students on clinical placements also attend dedicated simulation weeks here at the University. In fact, I can even shrink our students down so they can “walk” inside their virtual patient!”
The verdict on the VERT installation among the Birmingham students has been a unanimous thumbs up. Students who feel uncertain about certain elements of their course are gaining extra confidence from working through their problems virtually in their own time. The University is finding that its advanced visualisation resource is proving a lure to would be students and, as a result, is using the system in its admissions process to its three year BSc in Radiotherapy. Mark’s team is also deploying the VERT system on the diagnostic side of its radiotherapy work, as part of some postgraduate courses such as CT Imaging. With a second system about to be installed at its Edgbaston site, there are plans to bring VERT to other allied professions, such as nurses, who would benefit from understanding more about radiotherapy.
Mark concluded, “You’d think the younger generation would be blasé about 3D, but when they see VERT, jaws drop and the consensus is “Wow”!”
Read more about Virtalis, Vertual & VERT in our case study section