Paramedics are using virtual reality to plunge themselves into a simulated mass casualty situation, as part of a trial aimed at improving the emergency response to terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Researchers at Perth’s Edith Cowan University researchers have partnered with VR production company Virtual Guest to create a fully immersive 360-degree virtual reality environment which simulates the immediate aftermath of an event with mass casualties.

The research is aimed at determining how effective VR might be in training paramedic students to develop the decision-making skills to operate under intense pressure.

ECU School of Medical and Health Sciences researcher Dr Brennen Mills said mass casualty event training has traditionally been taught either in lectures or by conducting live simulations, but both have their drawbacks.

“It’s impossible to provide a realistic experience of responding to a mass casualty event in a classroom,” he said.

“While live simulations give a more authentic learning experience, they require a significant amount of resources to do, including multiple actors, various settings, patient moulage (wound make-up) and substantial coordination of personnel.”

Such training, however, is vital for ensuring paramedics have the skills enter chaotic situations and be able to gauge the urgency of each wounded person to decide the order of treatment when more resources arrive.

The trial uses a VR headset and handheld controllers, allowing users to look in any direction.

“The scene features actors with different injuries and in varying states of distress,” Dr Mills said.

“The user can interact with these actors in the simulation to get information about their vital signs, including their heart rate and breathing.

“The students then have to make an assessment of each patient and assign them a priority for treatment.”

The research is funded through an $85,000 ECU Industry Collaboration grant in partnership with Virtual Guest.

Virtual Guest CEO Brandon D’Silva said VR offers a number of advantages over live simulations.

“Unlike live simulations where there are variables that can’t be controlled, such as the actors’ performances, with a VR experience we can ensure that each student receives the exact same experience,” he said.

Watch a video of the training in action here.



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