The University of the West of England Brings VERT to non Radiotherapy Health Professionals
Curious to find out more about a Virtual Reality (VR) project highlighted by National Radiotherapy Advisory Group, Ben Roe, Senior Lecturer in Radiotherapy at the University of the West of England (UWE), decided to meet the system’s inventors.
Prof. Roger Phillips and James Ward from the University of Hull and Prof. Andy Beavis of the Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, the developers of Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training (VERT), were happy to demonstrate it to Ben.
“I was amazed by what I saw”, said Ben. “I could see that VERT would have a great impact on radiotherapy education.” As a result of that meeting, Ben sat on the relevant steering group for the Department of Health that presided over the 2008 national roll out of VERT to 10 universities and dozens of cancer centres all over England. However, it wasn’t just the functionality of the VERT software that impressed Ben. “Never having seen VR, I was completely bowled over by the power of this technology. Even our more technologically savvy students admit to being excited by the immersive element of VERT.”
VERT is award winning, specialist software designed to offer training for radiotherapy students, nurses and existing staff. Now VERT is being developed and supplied by a spin out company from the University of Hull called 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 UWE, the first “Immersive VERT” system in the world at the time. It includes a rear-projected pair of Christie Mirage S+6k active stereoscopic projectors, an Intersense IS-900 tracking system and Virtalis integration software and expertise.
The team at UWE, comprising seven staff members and 30 students in each year, decided that from the start VERT had to be fully integrated in all aspects of the three-year course. Initially, Ben and his team realised that in order to get the most from the system it had to be a learning process on both sides. “Now we’ve had the system up and running for an entire academic year, we are reviewing the whole degree and redesigning modules to incorporate more VERT experience. We are also looking into how we can facilitate our students’ desire to have greater VERT accessibility and more self directed use.”
UWE’s team has also been using VERT to share radiotherapy knowledge with other medical professionals in a drive to increase the integration of care for cancer patients. “Our Head and Neck Masterclasses have brought VERT to nurse specialists, speech and language therapists, dieticians, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive because we are able to study anatomy in 3D, making it far more interactive than a standard conference.”
UWE’s main VERT installation is in such demand now that the University has invested in an additional portable system, which is primarily used for road shows and for student recruitment. Ben and his team believe their second VERT system will help raise awareness of a profession that incorporates both science and caring. They also hope that their use of VERT will highlight their innovative approach to learning. “VERT is helping us bridge the gap between practice and education,” explained Ben. “As we acquire data, we are increasingly able to teach from real life cases, making our work up to date and closely linked to clinical practice.” Use of VERT has encouraged the UWE team to take part in research in strategies for using IT in Education and they recently attended the IT in Education International Conference.
Dawn Bowers, a current second year student at UWE, commented: “VERT is quite simply stunning and has proved to be a good teaching aid, as it backs up what has been discussed. For example, one technique requires the linac head to be parallel to the contour of the patient’s skin and we were able to practice this in VERT first before trying it on an actual patient. The 3D element has the real wow factor, as it gives the sensation of being able to walk through the body. Having used VERT to revise techniques, I feel certain that I will come back to work on the system after qualification as part of my continuing professional development.”
Watch a video of how UWE uses VERT