Rich Joseph Facun
Ohio University invited Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and her staff for a comprehensive presentation on the university’s use of virtual reality.
“Today I’m really excited to learn more about the possibilities of virtual reality,” said Criss. “This is definitely a future-oriented area for us at our faculty.”
Ohio University faculty demonstrated to Criss and her team the university’s cutting-edge virtual reality technology and what it means for the future of healthcare and law enforcement.
The first simulation, “Destiny,” simulates the experience of working with patients in the Appalachian healthcare community and provides insight into regional values that may affect how practitioners can best provide care.
The decision to use virtual reality to convey difficult situations was extremely purposeful and intended to bring a more human component to the complexities faced by people in need of medical care, particularly in Appalachia. During the simulation, a person donning the virtual reality goggles enters episodes in which the characters interact with their healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, as well as social workers and families.
“There are animated versions of these that I’ve seen and they just aren’t that effective to me,” said John McCarthy, interim dean at the College of Health Sciences and Professions.
The simulation revolves around Destiny, a woman in her early 20s from Appalachia. She’s pregnant, unmarried, her parents are largely absent, and she’s also an opioid addict. The simulation plays out like a movie, beginning with Destiny smoking a cigarette and going to her baby’s first doctor’s appointment while her partner fades to opioids.
“It didn’t feel like Hollywood,” Criss said after the experience.
Acknowledging the depth of the experience of growing up in Appalachia herself, Criss explained that even the wood paneling of the houses reminded her of her childhood.
The project aims to educate healthcare professionals about aspects of Appalachian culture and help them identify implicit biases that can complicate the care of patients in the area. The series is part of a larger project, Virtual Reality Simulations to Address Provider Bias and Cultural Competency, funded by a grant from Ohio’s Medicaid Technical Assistance and Policy Program.
Created by faculty from the College of Health Sciences and Professions and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, virtual reality was developed by Scripps College of Communication’s Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab, which serves as an innovative business and creative center for research and Project development by students, lecturers and employees.
The project was led by co-principal researchers McCarthy and Deborah Henderson, Professor and Principal of the School of Nursing. Other researchers on the project include Elizabeth Beverly, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine; John Bowditch, director of the GRID Lab; and Eric Williams, a professor at Scripps College of Communication.
The faculty then presented a virtual reality training course developed for Appalachian law enforcement students. The training is part of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service’s Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative, an initiative to bring law enforcement and communities together to improve community-police relationships. As distance, small populations and low budgets often impede the training of law enforcement officers in the region, virtual reality is being used to overcome these limitations and provide officers with much more intensive training.
In the simulation, two officers are sent to tend to an Iraqi war veteran suffering from an episode of PTSD.
The Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative is designed to engage entire communities and bring law enforcement officials, community stakeholders and public administration together in collaboration to reduce the use of force, teach de-escalation techniques, and improve law enforcement outcomes for both the community and the police force .
In order to overcome such barriers, the initiative plans to use virtual reality in their training. Rather than using technology in a traditionally tactical sense, the goal of the initiative is to immerse law enforcement in an experience that can change their perspectives, while creating a structure to engage public decision-makers and community leaders. Officers in training wear virtual reality headsets to look around and learn from the training environment, providing a more impactful experience.