Looking Back – Thomas Matthews Shares International Visit Experience

05th March 2020

Looking Back – Thomas Matthews Shares International Visit Experience

The CDE provides all EngD students with the opportunity to take a funded international visit. As my research project uses AiSolve’s paediatric emergency VR training application (now named ResuscitationVR) developed for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), I decided to schedule a visit alongside my preliminary data collection stage.

AiSolve is a virtual/mixed reality hardware and software development company for both enterprise and entertainment markets. I’ve been in a research collaboration with them in their VRSims department for around three years, where primarily I’ve worked on expanding the affordances of VR training applications with usability functionalities and evaluation frameworks.

ResuscitationVR is an expansion of AiSolve’s CHLA-specific paediatric emergency medicine simulation software to include additional modules and localisations, subsequently being used as a curriculum tool in a growing list of medical organisations worldwide. It was developed with support by Oculus and is currently on the Oculus Rift and Oculus Go headsets.

I visited CHLA and spent my time under the guidance and support of Dr. Todd Chang, their Director of Research & Scholarship, who has been a principal stakeholder in the ResuscitationVR project since the beginning. Together we ran a selection of Subject Matter Experts through our training simulation to validate the research approach, usability and impact of the developed systems.

Before starting my EngD I completed a BSc (Hons) in Games Technology at Bournemouth University. My particular interest has always been using the strength of the games industry for direct social good, which made working with the Centre for Digital Entertainment a perfect fit for the next step in my academic career.

I am currently researching UX design considerations in VR MedSim technologies (using mainly Oculus Quest hardware), in good part due to the data collected during this research trip. This work aims to alleviate some of the issues preventing wider adoption of VR technologies in MedSim spaces and is rooted in direct feedback by the medical training community.

The primary purpose of my visit was to conduct user testing and data collection with the medical residents at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the primary partner in formulating the initial ResuscitationVR modules. Being able to conduct the tests in person and with subject matter experts was invaluable, as it allowed me to validate the data collection protocols as well as identify first-hand shortcomings in our approach. Working on-site also granted me the ability to gain insight into the needs of the end-users that wouldn’t have been feasible through abstract interviews and user testing alone.

Also during the visit, I attended two conferences: Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium 2019 at the University of Arizona, and Virtual Medicine 2019 at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles. As well as networking with important industry organisations, the presentations at these events directly tied into my research aims and provided excellent innovation coverage; particularly which disciplines are in want of increased input, and where research will have the best impact on increasing patient safety and well-being.

Finally, I had the opportunity to partake in several extremely useful research activities, namely:

  • CHLA Innovation Studio on Serious Games & Virtual Reality in Healthcare Education & Assessment
  • Designing Clinical Mixed Methods Research Workshop
  • Gamifying Paediatrics launch event and roundtable
  • Observation during manikin simulations and medical training sessions

As well as data collection for my research purposes, I was able to provide live development of new features and fixes for the ResuscitationVR software to match user feedback and improve upon some of the usability issues we found.

I was invited to hold discussions with key stakeholders and was able to introduce VR technology to a whole host of the medical training community, from the curious to the sceptical, and all-in-all feedback was overwhelmingly positive! This publicity for the ResuscitationVR platform hopefully leads to additional training modules and more institutions signing up for this research trial.

The research conducted at CHLA is vital to my thesis, not only as a research study to be included in my portfolio of work, but also because in this visit we found that our initial research direction required refocusing, and the appropriate topics as solutions to these issues. My research work has been strengthened considerably by the opportunity of this visit!

I had a good call to improve my research skills too, particularly my communication and networking skills at the excellent conferences and events I attended. This was showcasing and collaborating with an audience deeply embedded within that intersection of tech, academia, and medicine, so I had lots to learn and much to share.

I was very excited as this was my first-ever visit to the United States. It was an absolute privilege to see both California and Arizona, nicely representative of two different ‘traditional’ American cultures. I toured a whole host of the classic attractions around LA; as Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was located only a short distance from Hollywood and public transport was good, it meant that I had lots of time to visit the local tourist traps, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Griffith Observatory, and California Science Center.

There weren’t as many cultural differences between working in the UK and working in the US as I expected. A lot of the commonly held beliefs we have in the UK hold true: Californian life and work definitely runs on a more chaotic schedule, everyone I met was over-the-top friendly and inviting, and outside of the hipster areas of LA and international conferences, a good cup of tea was difficult to find.

Academically speaking, it was personally very gratifying to be able to discuss with the actual medical professionals who would be benefiting from the outcomes of my research and to hear the positive impact training of this nature can have to medical institutions. Particularly in a difficult year of research, being able to showcase and receive enthusiasm and praise was intensely motivating!

A surprising benefit of being able to interface with US medical professionals and attend US-centric conferences was experiencing the disparities between the US insurance-based healthcare system and the public system we have in the UK and most of Europe, and what those differences mean for the research produced by each: what gets funded, by whom, and for what expected outcomes? This has already proven useful in the pursuit of research funding and expanding our library of training content.

In terms of my professional career, I have made some invaluable contacts during my visit both for myself and for my placement company, and the experience of this trip emboldened my choice in discipline, due to the limitless good work possibilities and the strong support of a robust industry.

As to be unfortunately expected from any large-scale live demoing of software on hardware that was not my own, there was of course a small plague of technical issues that set me off initially. However, the length of the visit as allowed by CDE meant that I had plenty of contingency time allocated to exactly this, and other than pushing some user test dates back, it otherwise had no impact on the results.

What the length of the visit did mean though is that I almost ran out of things to do in my free time. I was able to visit all the major attractions I wanted to during weekends, and the evenings not having my usual entertainment or, well, being in the same time zone to be chatting with friends from home meant that I was balancing affording evening entertainment around the city – LA as a bustling metropolitan city akin to London, unfortunately, has the same price ranges – and making use of the hotel’s semi-extensive film library, but after a while I missed my books and games and friends!

A month is both a surprisingly short and long amount of time, and my suggestion to all considering a similar trip is to plan what you’re going to do in your free time in advance.

As my thesis research draws to a close, I will be continuing my work with AiSolve to bring ResuscitationVR to more medical institutions worldwide. Expanding the library of training modules, and the functionalities of the platform to support the newest cutting-edge virtual reality technologies.

Hearty thanks to Dr. Todd Chang and all the staff of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Emergency Medicine Department for all their hospitality and assistance during my stay. Thanks to my academic supervisor Dr. Feng Tian for his continued support, and to Zoe Leonard and Dr. Mike Board for the heaps of admin and organisation necessary to arrange this trip. Finally, thanks to my industry supervisor Tom Dolby and my colleagues at AiSolve for involving me in the ResuscitationVR platform in the first place!

All CDE2 (cohorts 2014 – 2019) CDE Research Engineers have the opportunity to bid for an international visit. If your host company has international offices or partners or you know of international universities working on similar research to yourself, then you might like to consider applying. More details on the application process can be found here. Please discuss the options with both your industrial and academic supervisors. If you have any questions at all please contact Mike Boardat Bournemouth University or Sarah Parry at the University of Bath.

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