The i3 Hub team (from L-R) Mr Yeep Jun Hui, Ms Diana Fu, Ms Soh Lin Sin and Mr Lew Kai Xiong show some of the gaming equipment available for healthcare training in the i3 Hub.

One can call it playing with purpose, as applications of virtual reality in medicine make serious games a popular educational tool for healthcare professionals. The benefits of training in virtual reality are numerous for both clinical professionals as well as patients.

Serious games are a subset of video games that taps on the rapid growth of virtual reality (VR) and gaming technology. As education moves online for healthcare institutions across the world, a team of four members fronts the new SIMS i3 Hub at the Academia on SGH Campus. The team’s purpose? Driving serious games as an effective tool in healthcare training.

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Some tools of the trade to spearhead the incubation of serious games include a strong understanding of healthcare educators’ needs, the ability to communicate these to gaming vendors, and staying open-minded to bring training ideas to fruition with rigorous testing.

"It is like running a restaurant”

The team from the Office of SIMS includes Ms Diana Fu, Manager, and Executives Mr Yeep Jun Hui, Mr Lew Kai Xiong and Ms Soh Lin Sin working closely together to head this initiative.

When asked to describe the dynamics of working at SIMS, Ms Fu likened the work of the team to that of a restaurant manager or service crew.

“We are similar to the service crew of a restaurant where our healthcare professionals are our ‘chefs’ who have the knowledge, skills, or compelling content to create ‘dishes’ or content that can be used in serious gaming,” she explained.

“In this analogy, our game developers are our ‘restaurant suppliers’ that we buy commodities from, and our users are our ‘customers’ who get to enjoy the final product: serious games.”

Besides game development, the team prioritises raising awareness for serious games that support health education that includes organising SIMTalks, a series of lunch talks for bite-sized introduction to serious games, meetings with colleagues from Academic Clinical Programmes, and preparing for the upcoming S3 Conference 2022 that focuses on a broad spectrum of topics dedicated to serious games, virtual, augmented and mixed reality applications to enhance the delivery of patient care.

A vibrant team to create a vibrant virtual landscape

The young team’s confidence and camaraderie go a long way to front the evolving technology in healthcare education. They are ambassadors, channels, and facilitators of i3 Hub in all its intents and purposes to drive medical simulation training.

“Many details in clinical settings may not be mapped directly onto the virtual landscape. Navigation of the gadgets and devices require an orientation process, and some may even experience motion sickness when using the VR headset for the first time,” Ms Fu shared.

Whilst there are challenges, Ms Fu also recognised opportunities and potential: “With serious games and virtual training being a condensed version of real-life exercises, the trade-off of being connected virtually more than before also means that serious games technology can be a platform for healthcare professionals to continue evolving and improving in their skills during their free time, rather than fixating on blocking time off for training.”

While separate SingHealth departments may have initialised training via virtual reality tools, the i3 Hub coordinates the smooth execution of trials, development processes, and game practices with fluid management of content vendors, developers and users.

A key value of the team is their strength in working with immersive gaming vendors to translate content specialists’ objectives to actual serious games application for instructive practice, all while staying faithful to the ADDIE training model. The ADDIE model, which stands for the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation, is a design framework that is commonly used by educators to organise and streamline their course content as it encourages feedback for continuous improvement, thereby creating an effective learning experience.

Mr Lew explained: “Serious gaming is very different from the games we play for entertainment. Learning objectives are the focus in serious games, and we can inject interesting assessment points into these to engage learners, versus putting effort into cool details and graphics like commercial games.”

“The main focus is in transposing the skills you want to teach, raising confidence in technology usage, as well as to provide an easy, accessible continuation in upgrading skills.”

The most striking difference between real-life training and simulation via serious games are the lowered tactile experience and fidelity of components. Learners in a training that engages serious games might still experience a difference between the simulated environment and a real-life medical scenario. Unlike real life training where actual medical tools are used, handheld controllers that replicate medical tools are used in serious games. Learners will also need to be mindful of the spatial distance since training is now represented in a virtual environment. 

Engaging people through serious games means the team needs to bridge expectations and knowledge gaps of the medium.

“We must work harder to manage expectations and drive things in the right direction by encouraging our healthcare colleagues to adopt serious games as part of their training and education, as they  may be new to serious games and its capabilities,” Mr Yeep highlighted.

“At the end of the day, using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is more forgiving for trying out new things and making mistakes as there are less dire consequences than actual practice in a clinical setting.”

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