University of Illinois Chicago 2nd Year Medical Students
Does embodying your patient in virtual reality affect empathy, perspective-taking, and stereotyping?
Embodied Lab: The Alfred Lab | Macular Degeneration & High Frequency Loss
Duration of Study: October 2016 - January 2017
Embodying an older adult patient will lead to...
greater empathy for older adults
more thorough knowledge of morbidities, etiologies, and pathologies that affect older adults
more interest in the geriatrics specialty overall
Ninety-two students at the University of Illinois Chicago utilized The Alfred Lab as part of their curriculum for their Essentials of Clinic Medicine course. The Alfred Lab is Embodied Labs’ patient experience lab based on a 74-year old man named Alfred James, who has an advanced case of age-related macular degeneration and high frequency hearing loss.
Use of the Embodied Labs Framework:
Students took a pre-assessment immediately before embodying Alfred in VR, which asked the following Likert-scale questions:
- Degree of interest in a geriatrics career
- Extent to which students agree with the statement: “I understand the perspective of an older adult patient.”
- Extent to which students agree with the statement: “Embodying my future patient helps me learn concepts important to my future career.”
And the following free answer questions:
- What words or phrases come to mind when you hear the words/phrases “older people”, “elderly”, “geriatric”, or "aging"?
- Which morbidities should a physician be aware of that may affect the results of a cognitive test?
Students embodied Alfred in the VR headset, spending 7-10 minutes as Alfred James, at a birthday party, experiencing a daydream, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, visiting with the doctor, taking a cognitive exam, and discussing the diagnosis.
Students interact with Alfred’s world via their own hands, projected into the space and able to interact with CGI objects.
Immediately after embodying Alfred, students took a post-assessment with identical questions to the pre-test.
Interest in a Geriatrics Career
Understanding the Perspective of an Older Adult Patient
Embodying my future patient helps me learn concepts important to my future career
What words or phrases come to mind when you hear the words/phrases “older people”, “elderly”, “geriatric”, or "aging"?
Of these phrases, how many were stereotypical?
Which morbidities should a physician be aware of that may affect the results of a cognitive test?
DISCUSSION & CONCLUSIONS
This pilot study sought to evaluate whether embodying a patient in The Alfred Lab would lead to greater empathy, a better understanding of the pathologies that affect aging adults, and more interest in pursuing a geriatrics specialty among 2nd year medical students. After completing The Alfred Lab:
9.5% more students reported being “somewhat interested” in a geriatrics specialty. In a class of 200 students, that means that nearly 20 more students are considering geriatrics who previously were not.
30% more students chose “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” after The Alfred Lab when asked if they understand the perspective of an aging patient.
68% of students used stereotypical words/phrases to describe aging adults before The Alfred Lab, but only an average of 5.5% of students used these words/phrases in the post-assessment. Replacing them were words like “frustrating”, “misunderstood”, “isolated”, and “just like us”.
Students had a more holistic perspective of what could affect the ability of an older adult to complete a cognitive test, such as motor skills and audiovisual problems – not just cognitive and neurological disorders.