Nursing students make virtual at-home visit using new technology in the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health

A student stands in the virtual reality lab.
Nursing students use the virtual reality lab in the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health to practice conducting home safety assessments.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

Agnes Taylor is 81 years old and has fractured her hip. She is in a rehabilitation unit and a nurse must assess her home environment to see if it is safe for her to return home and live independently. 

This scenario was part of a class assignment for nursing students to learn how to conduct an at-home safety assessment. Agnes isn’t a real person — the at-home visit took place in the virtual reality technology room at the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health (DCIH).

The walls of the lab can be programmed to any environment found on Google Earth or with 360-degree images and sounds.

Cathy Forslund, affiliate faculty of nursing in the Kirkhof College of Nursing, developed the scenario for her students to transform the room into a home health environment. Kelly Klerk, with the Simulation Center, programmed the setting.

Forslund said the case represents a common problem for older adults — fractures as a result of falls — and gives students the opportunity to practice in a fun, safe and interactive space prior to a real visit.

“The virtual reality immersion room allows students to apply what they learn from this virtual experience when they go into older adult home visiting situations,” said Forslund. “Not knowing what the older adult’s home may be like or what to look for can be overwhelming for students. This provides a safe, unique learning opportunity to simulate a potential home visit environment.”

Nursing student touching the interactive wall in the virtual reality lab.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
Nursing students stands in the virtual reality lab.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

Nursing student Ross Stevenson said the projectors on every wall in the virtual reality room helped make the situation seem real. “It was cool to see a whole 360-degree surrounding rather than a 180-degree view that would be on a Powerpoint slide,” he said.

Stevenson said the ability to look around and picture himself in the patient's house made him think more critically about patient scenarios and conditions. 

“This experience will be helpful the next time I assess a patient's home or living condition in real life,” he said. “Within the simulation we were able to see animations play and witness different items that can affect a patient's health.”

Willow Kuech, another nursing student who participated in the simulation, said it was difficult at first to acclimate to the virtual scenario. “It was kind of hard to orient myself to the situation when we first got in there, but once I did, it was very helpful to actually see a scenario and environment that we may see in our clinical futures,” she said. 

Nursing student Heather Beasley said the immersion experience was relevant and the technology was easy to navigate. “Being able to ‘enter’ a patient’s home with a group was a good learning tool,” she explained. “It allowed us to learn from each other. The technology we have access to in the Kirkhof College of Nursing is invaluable.”

A nursing student touches the interactive wall in the virtual reality lab.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
A nursing student touches the interactive wall in the virtual reality lab.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

Forslund said the exercise allows students to explore the complexity of working with a client who may have difficulty maintaining a safe home, identifying risks and developing a plan. 

The virtual reality technology room is just one example of the new simulation space in DCIH. The new health building includes one the largest interprofessional, comprehensive, state-of-the-art simulation centers in Michigan. Advanced teaching modalities include an electronic 3D anatomy modeling and imaging table, a large collection of human plastinated specimens, high-fidelity patient simulators and several virtual reality rooms.