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(Photo: UOC- National Cancer Institute /

DTI Foundation launches a reality-based training program in organ donation and transplantation

DTI Foundation–Donation and Transplantation Institute (DTI), based in the Barcelona Science Park, and Immersium Studio, a UOC spin-off, have developed virtual reality experiences that can be used to train health professionals in the area of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. The contents include interviews with relatives of donors and a visit to a hospital to learn about the practices implemented in the Spanish organ and tissue donation and transplantation model.

Family Approach VR has been the first activity developed, with health professionals from 24 countriesparticipating so far. The experience allows students to perfect the skills required to manage interviews with bereaved family members who may become organ donors. The professionals practise techniques including giving bad news and managing consent for organ and tissue donation.

For Dr Chlöe Ballesté, International Cooperation and Development Director at DTI Foundation –headed by Martí Manyalich, lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona (UB)– learning from experience and one’s own mistakes provides a way of “learning without upsetting real people, who are already going through a very difficult time”. Ballesté highlighted that the technology is not simply complementary to traditional training but immerses health professionals in an “individualized live experience that is very difficult to replicate with face-to-face trainers, because of the time needed and the teaching staff it would require”. In addition, online training with virtual reality allows it to be done from anywhere in the world, which has meant that the course “has been approached from a universal perspective, so that it can be used profitably by any professional in any country, although we intend to customize it in the future for each location that requires it, adapting to different donation and transplantation models,” said Dr Ballesté. “The immersive training technique also enables us to organize a visit to a virtual hospital so that participants can understand how it works and how it is organized, without having to travel,” she added.

Each student lives a personalized experience that is produced by their decisions, and which may or may not conclude with getting the family’s consent for the donation. The situations with which they interact seek to be realistic, using recreations of real cases with professional actors. “With this virtual reality experience, making decisions has direct consequences that change how the learning experience is given,” said Luis Villarejo, Immersium Studio’s CEO. “The experience offers users constant feedback on their actions, explaining what they did right or wrong, so that they can perfect their knowledge and make corrections, if necessary,” added Villarejo. In addition, according to its creators, thanks to this virtual experience, professionals learn how to support a family in coping with the loss of a loved one.

Health care professionals from eight leading Spanish hospitals have taken part in this training activity. According to Francisco Muela, transplant coordinator nurse at Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic, it is “an opportunity to make contact more real than the role playing we do among team members when we have never given bad news before and we join the Transplant Coordination service”. Muela stressed that learning with virtual reality, with the possibility of choosing between different options, helps to “rethink the situation better before rushing in, keeping calm and planning more carefully the strategy for approaching relatives”. In addition, the nurse underscored that since the experience is personalized, “it makes it easier to experiment and learn from your mistakes”.

Family Approach VR uses voice-based interaction and role changing – users go from being critical care physicians to transplant coordinators – with dramatic shifts in the direction taken by the experience, depending on whether the student makes the right or wrong decisions. The training includes a self-assessment and monitoring system used by the trainers and by the students themselves that lets them see where they are in the learning process.

The Spanish model as a reference for organ and tissue donation and transplantation 

DTI Foundation and Immersium Studio have developed a second experience to learn from the Spanish model’s best practices in organ and tissue donation and transplantation. The TPM Journey is a virtual visit to a simulated tertiary hospital that allows students to learn from the best practices integrated in the Spanish donation and transplantation model. The core role is the transplant coordinator, who accompanies the user through the hospital’s different departments and services, including case follow-up. In each department, students are received by the management staff, who explain what their work consists of. The departments involved include the transplant coordination office, the emergency room, intensive care units, the immunology laboratory, the departments that deal with each of the solid transplantable organs, a tissue donation centre, and the medical director, among other areas.

Learning is enriched with the presentation of a number of case studies that students must solve. Thus, TPM Journey takes in all the medical, technical, legal and financial aspects that arise during the donation and transplantation process. As in the previous training activity, it includes immersive interaction, self-assessment and monitoring methods.

This experience not only evaluates the knowledge acquired but also how much more the professional wants to know. “The ambition to increase the level of knowledge is sown by putting users in situations in which they are asked questions that they can successfully answer if they have the necessary basic knowledge,” explained Villarejo.

Spain is currently the world leader in this field and, according to data from the Ministry of Health, accounted for 20% of EU donors and 6% of the world’s donors in 2019.

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