The profession of pharmacy is changing rapidly, with new career opportunities arising from team working with doctors and nurses, both in the community and in hospitals. Keele’s undergraduate course draws on the University’s existing national reputation for training modern pharmacists through its postgraduate programme. Keele has a well-established postgraduate school within The Department of Medicines Management, and a strong network of links with major employers such as Boots and the National Health Service. Keele began offering an undergraduate pharmacy programme in 2006.
KEELE’S VIRTUAL PATIENT
In keeping with its leading edge approach, the Keele Pharmacy team created a training software program known as Virtual Patient. Students are able to interact with the computer generated characters through the use of multiple choice questions or ‘natural’ free text questions. The Virtual Patients can be programmed with different scenarios and medical histories. Virtual Patient is much more flexible than traditional environments that employ actors, thanks to the plethora of scenarios the university has developed from its library of animations. The fact that Virtalis’ ActiveCube provides lifelike peripheral vision makes it a personal and convincing experience.
The students can even break out of the consultation to contact virtual GPs, consultants or receptionists to gather more evidence for the consultation. Not only do the avatars and backdrops used look remarkably realistic, they are endowed with personalities. This means that depending on the outcome of the scenario, the avatars may reprimand the user if unnecessary questions are asked or previous decisions challenged.
Stephen Chapman, Professor of Prescribing Studies and Head of the School of Pharmacy, explained: “Virtual Patient, which features computer generated characters to help our students both communicate and prescribe in a number of scenarios, deserved more than 2D animation if it was to be a believable experience. Specifically, it needed to be immersive.”
Although originally designed as a system for just its students, there is now interest in Virtual Patient from universities and pharmaceutical companies worldwide and the University has applied for a patent.
After the success enjoyed by the Virtual Patient, the Keele team took their idea into a hospital environment and developed the Virtual Ward. The Virtual Ward gives clinical educators the opportunity to change the patients each week. They can be programmed to display the symptoms for common disorders, such as tumours, jaundice or breathing difficulties. The students can consult the drugs charts on the patient’s bed, their ECG monitor or check for cleanliness on the Ward. As in real life, the patient responds when approached, but unlike real life, the student can “fly” inside the patient’s body to examine their major organs.
Prof. Chapman, said: “The challenge for all clinical training is access to cases and standardising the experience to ensure equity in assessment. Virtual Patient and Virtual Ward help because they are available 24/7 and they deliver a consistent experience each time. Using the Virtalis ActiveCube has allowed our team to use our Virtual Patients in a Virtual Ward we created. Virtual Reality (VR) improves the realism of the simulation and makes the experience come to life.”
THE VIRTALIS ACTIVECUBE AT KEELE
Keele’s ActiveCube boasts three rear projected walls, with a front-projected floor, forming a multi-sided Virtual Reality (VR) system. Virtalis also supplied Virtools software from Dassault Systèmes, as well as its own GeoVisionary software and its recently launched VR enablement of PyMOL software.
The ActiveCube features Christie Digital projectors and uses InterSense wireless tracking technology, enabling the users to move around unfettered, with their view points within the virtual world updating in real time. The system is powered by a master Dell PC with four Dell cluster nodes and is controlled by an iPad.
Luke Bracegirdle, IT Development Director within the School of Pharmacy, commented: “They have put a tremendous amount of effort into creating a design that works best in the restricted space we have available, for example.”
Since Virtalis installed a four-sided ActiveCube at Keele University last year, staff at the School of Pharmacy have been busy adapting their groundbreaking Virtual Patient and Virtual Ward pharmacy training systems to run in a VR environment. Virtalis’ software specialists helped migrate the software already created to work within the ActiveCube environment.
Bracegirdle concluded: “The additional Virtalis developed software is a terrific bonus for the Chemistry and Geology Departments and Virtalis’ software knowledge puts them head and shoulders above the rest. Virtalis’ knowledgebase is all devoted to making VR systems usable on a daily basis rather than merely supplying equipment.”
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