By Lauren Welch
Many patients in the U.S. are not getting the level of care that can prevent visual impairment and blindness. Increasing patient and provider awareness about DME, DR and AMD and their high disease burden is necessary, especially given the availability of improved therapies for treatment. With independent grant support from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., Med Learning Group (MLG) planned to implement two virtual reality rooms in 2019 at the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Optometric Association annual meetings and planned to implement eight more in 2020 given its success.
A VR Room is a 20’ x 20’ immersive cylinder that allows us to develop 360-degree wrap-around content that truly brings the education to life. In contrast to the traditional VR headsets, the VR room is a shared experience, which makes it ideal for many data visualization applications that can be shared by the participants at the same time. With a VR projection system, viewers simply walk into the cylinder and experience the content, allowing for an engaging experience for 10–15 learners at a time. MLG films the faculty in a 4K 360-degree setting, and inside the room they appear like a hologram, introduce the content, walk through key data points, and guide the experience. Integration of faculty dialogue and animations augments the learning and facilitates connection points, all within a 10-minute learning experience.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic required MLG and its partners to swiftly change course, as all meetings were either canceled or moved to a virtual platform. Although this obstacle proved challenging, the Digital VR Learning Lab that MLG and its partners created, with support from Regeneron, to replace the live VR rooms has shown to be ground-breaking and more sustainable.
From April to June, MLG’s graphics developers, along with our faculty members Dr. Neil Bressler and Dr. Julia Haller, worked assiduously to develop a digitized version of the VR room with all the same features of a live meeting. All details are considered to make the digitized VR room feel like it would at a live meeting. This cutting-edge experience takes place in a virtually simulated immersive cylinder, allowing us to develop 360-degree wrap-around content that brings the education to life. An unlimited number of learners from throughout the country and globally can access the immersive experience on their desktop or any mobile device without the need to leave the comfort of their home or office.
In addition to entering the digitized VR room to view the educational content, outside the room on the same landing page is a table where learners can view a case study and take part in pre-/post-test and evaluation assessments. They also can access a variety of point-of-care tools to support continuous learning, reflection on the education in practice and HCP-patient dialogue. These include a Personalized Poster Portal where learners can choose four images and design a wall poster that is shipped to their practice setting. Learners also can access an augmented reality app that they can easily download to their smart device. By just hovering their camera over a flat surface, they can view holographic animations that navigate the learner through retinal changes observed and how evidence-based treatments work. These animations are scripted in a patient-friendly manner to support patient education. Learners also are directed to the RELIEF website where they can access HCP and patient-focused toolkits, the poster portal, the animations and enduring programs.
While MLG worked to develop this platform, our association partners also were working diligently to pivot their large annual conferences to virtual events. Their positivity and support for our efforts has been overwhelming, and the meetings that have featured the Digital VR Learning Lab so far have been successful thanks to their collaborative approach.
The Digital VR Learning Lab, while created out of necessity due to the pandemic, is both scalable and replicable, allowing HCPs greater access to the education than we had originally envisioned. As some associations we originally planned to partner with canceled their meetings, we brought the Digital VR Learning Lab to new partners in diabetes eye care hosting virtual meetings. Given the ease of posting this format, these new partners were excited to have an innovative feature to add a new level of engagement to their virtual conference. Participation thus far also has far outpaced what we anticipated for the live VR rooms due to a number of factors, such as associations like the American Society for Retina Specialists (ASRS) choosing to keep the experience available on their website for three months after the virtual conference ended given its traction. Now, more learners are able to access the education in the virtual format than at the live meeting. Learners have achieved a 24% average knowledge gain and a 23% average competence gain based on pre-/post-test data (N=4058). The successful implementation of the RELIEF initiative also enabled MLG to create Digital VR Learning Labs in other therapeutic areas that we had planned to do live VR rooms. For example, we now have done similar programs in sleep at the Sleep 2020 Conference and the American Thoracic Society annual meeting, as well as on immunotherapy at the European Society for Medical Oncology and at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer.
The innovation and collaborations involved in the Digital VR Learning Lab exemplify how the CE industry took proactive, unique steps to fulfill its responsibility to provide education and tools required by HCPs to continuously elevate their practices, with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes, despite the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.