By Helle Gjønnes Møller*
Self-driving cars, genetically modified foods, wearable health devices. Technology is continually making our lives safer, more efficient and more convenient. But can technology teach humans to be more human? Can artificial intelligence help people be more person-centred?
In São Paulo, a team of dedicated academics think so. They are working on an ambitious initiative to help students at the University of São Paulo, Campus Bauru (FOB/USP) develop person-centered skills using Virtual Reality (VR). By creating a 3D experience and adding physical stimuli such as touch, smell and sound, the project, dubbed ImPACT Lab, aims to mimic clinical scenarios, allowing students to virtually put themselves in the shoes of the patient or practitioner.
The illusion of being another
The ImPACT Lab is a transdisciplinary project that promotes immersive, deep, affective and skill-based learning supported by digital technologies. A key aspect of the project is based on Embodied Virtual Reality (EVR), which combines immersive virtual reality and multi-sensory elements to create the illusion of being in someone else’s body.
The virtual environment is developed in collaboration with Philippe Bertrand, pioneer artist of virtual reality. Bertrand has done extensive work exploring the possibilities of using virtual reality to learn empathy skills – his technology is already widely used to explore issues such as mutual respect, gender identity, limitations physical and immigration. “Empathy allows us to learn from the pain of others and know when to offer support,” says Bertrand in the article Learning Empathy Through Virtual Reality. “Similarly, virtual reality appears to allow individuals to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, through a perceptual illusion called embodiment, or the illusion of body ownership.”
The Proteus effect
In virtual environments, users are known to be influenced by their avatars, a reaction called the Proteus effect. For example, studies have shown that game avatars resembling Ku Klux Klan members generate a high level of aggression in the user. Conversely, characteristics of a nursing or aid worker avatar could activate feelings associated with those roles, such as empathy and compassion. And that’s exactly the effect they aim to nurture at FOB/USP, as they groom a new generation of medical professionals.
Deborah Ferrari and Dagma Abramides are associate professors in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at FOB/USP and are the main drivers of the ImPACT lab. Ferrari says, “A lot of people don’t really understand what it means to be person-centered, but the ImPACT lab can actually show them what person-centered and empathetic interaction looks like. With this project, we will help our students develop professional identity, communication skills, self-knowledge, empathy, as well as creativity and sensitivity to improve the patient-professional relationship.”
A changing landscape
The ImPACT lab was triggered by a number of near-simultaneous events. The pandemic has accelerated technological developments, prompting hearing care professionals to consider remote digital telecare. This has caused frustration and concern for many and raised the question of how to be person-centered in an online interaction.
Around the same time, a number of important reports were published highlighting and justifying the importance of person-centred care (PCC): the WHO Rehabilitation Competency Framework, the World Report on Hearing and the ISO 21388 standard for hearing aid fitting management.
In parallel, the Ida Institute launched the Future Hearing Journeys report, exploring the future characteristics and dynamics of hearing care. In the report, CCP was seen as the decisive differentiator for hearing care professionals in a technology-dominated future, where they will compete with new delivery models, such as over-the-counter offerings.
Abramides says: “The scenarios presented in the Future Hearing Journeys report were aligned with discussions that were already taking place in our group, for example, the impact of megatrends and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of a health system which, in our country, is already weakened. The challenges are innumerable and require a paradigm shift, particularly with regard to the performance of the healthcare professional. »
To prepare for this changing landscape, the report identified a need for academia to rethink audiology programs. Educators should help students improve their counseling expertise and see CCP as a way for new generations of hearing care professionals to create value for their patients.
No back to the blackboard
The ImPACT Lab aims to address these points by embracing technology and applying those aspects of it that can help students be more human-centered. “There is no doubt that digital technology, virtual reality and online learning make more sense for this generation of students,” says Ferrari. “We don’t want to go back to the blackboard because they’re not interested in it. We have to embrace technology and make it our friend. It’s not the technology itself that we’re interested in, it’s how it can help us to become more human.
“As university educators, it is our duty to prepare the future generation for what they will face in their daily professional lives. We cannot apply the same methods and logic with students today because the context is completely different. There are a lot of unknowns, but there is one thing we do know: that future practitioners will need to prioritize their people skills.”
From dentistry to medical
At FOB/USP, they want to integrate the PCC into all disciplines. As Ferrari says, “people are people”. Beyond audiology and speech therapy, the ImPACT lab also involves colleagues from the faculties of dentistry and medicine, including professors Mariana Zangrando and Linda Wang, from the departments of periodontics and dentistry, respectively. Zangrando explains, “Dentistry is one of the areas of healthcare that, unfortunately, still has a technicist character. discipline of periodontics, the importance of evaluating the patient as a whole becomes even more evident for obtaining positive results. If during periodontal treatment we do not obtain the so-called ‘adherence’, c ‘that is to say the cooperation of the patient in relation to the therapy employees, we will certainly not achieve success.’
Wang agrees: “A person’s oral health status is an important indicator of their health habits. In recent years, this postulate has led to a more global approach, which considers the relevance of caring for the person and allowing him to become aware and active in his own health, beyond the disease. In this scenario, when approaching a patient requiring dental treatment, the principles of person-centered care enabled greater patient compliance by including them in the process. To achieve such a goal, proper communication skills are very relevant. Thus, dental professionals must achieve levels of technical professional excellence without taking precedence over the center of care, which is the human being.”
The student at the center
As much as the ImPACT laboratory relies on technology, its true strength lies in the inclusion of students and patients in its development. By including their views throughout the development and testing phases, the project team aims to ensure relevance and usability for all parties. Abramides explains: “An important point of the project is UX design, the creation of products that offer meaningful and relevant experiences to users. To achieve this, the student is more actively involved, from the conceptualization to the analysis of solutions, approached through workshops, discussion groups and consensus meetings with teachers and patients.
Ferrari adds: “We need to be student-centered and patient-centered to be person-centered. By co-creating innovative educational resources, we enable new forms of interaction between students, teachers and patients in the construction of knowledge.”
The ImPACT laboratory is currently in the scoping phase with the launch of the first prototype planned for the end of 2022.
*Helle Gjønnes Møller is a communication specialist and project manager at Ida Institute