New AI 'virtual patient' technology to aid NHS medical training

The Virti technology is intended to be used remotely to minimise in-person training during the pandemic.
By Sophie Porter
12:58 am
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Virti, COVID-19, AI, workforce, medical training, NHS

Credit: Virti

Virti has released a new AI-powered “virtual patient” in an effort to aid remote clinical training for medics and trainees across the NHS and throughout hospitals in the US. The technology, which has been named one of TIME’s best inventions of 2020, creates a realistic patient profile for interactive role-play scenarios to help users develop soft skills remotely. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

With in-person training currently on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Virti technology allows clinicians to continue their medical training without putting themselves or others at risk.

The “virtual patient” uses Natural Language Processing (NLP), speech recognition and “narrative branching” to simulate realistic patient responses in life-like medical role-plays. The AI impacts the patient’s speech, body language and mannerisms and provides feedback to the user as they interact with the “patient” in real-time. 

The software, which can be accessed through the clinicians’ desktop, laptop or VR or AR device, can be used by medics to practice communication and clinical reasoning skills such as breaking bad news to a patient, comforting a patient in distress or communicating effectively whilst wearing PPE.

THE LARGER PICTURE

Virti technology has already been deployed throughout the pandemic, providing swift training to NHS staff on infection control including how to properly put on PPE, navigating an unfamiliar ward and how to correctly use a ventilator.

ON THE RECORD

Dr Alex Young, the founder of Virti, commented: “We’ve been working with healthcare organisations for several years, but the pandemic has created really specific challenges that technology is helping to solve. It’s no longer safe or practicable to have 30 medics in a room with an actor, honing their clinical soft-skills. With our virtual patient technology, we’ve created an extremely realistic and repeatable experience that can provide feedback in real-time. This means clinicians and students can continue to learn valuable skills.”

They continued: “Right now, communication with patients can be very difficult. There’s a lot of PPE involved and patients are often on their own. Having healthcare staff who are skilled in handling these situations can therefore make a huge difference to that patient’s experience.”

"We've been using Virti's technology in our intensive care unit to help train staff who have been drafted in to deal with COVID-19 demand,” said Tom Woollard, a West Suffolk Hospital Clinical Skills and Simulation Tutor. “The videos which we have created and uploaded are being accessed on the Virti platform by nursing staff, physiotherapists and Operational Department Practitioners (ODPs) to orient them in the new environment and reduce their anxiety. The tech has helped us to reach a large audience and deliver formerly labour-intensive training and teaching which is now impossible with social distancing. In the future, West Suffolk will consider applying Virti tech to other areas of hospital practice."

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