CASE STUDY

University of Illinois Chicago 2nd Year Medical Students


Question

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
 

Hypotheses

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

Methods

 
Use of the Embodied Labs Framework:
 
EL Framework.png
 
 
Prepare

Students took a pre-assessment immediately before embodying Alfred in VR, which asked the following Likert-scale questions:

  1. Degree of interest in a geriatrics career
  2. Extent to which students agree with the statement: “I understand the perspective of an older adult patient.”
  3. 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:

  1. What words or phrases come to mind when you hear the words/phrases “older people”, “elderly”, “geriatric”, or "aging"?
  2. Which morbidities should a physician be aware of that may affect the results of a cognitive test?
Embody
  • 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.

Reflect

Immediately after embodying Alfred, students took a post-assessment with identical questions to the pre-test.


RESULTS

Question 1

Interest in a Geriatrics Career

Question 2

Understanding the Perspective of an Older Adult Patient

Question 3

Embodying my future patient helps me learn concepts important to my future career

Question 4a

What words or phrases come to mind when you hear the words/phrases “older people”, “elderly”, “geriatric”, or "aging"?

phrases for aging.jpg
Question 4b

Of these phrases, how many were stereotypical?

Combo Fig - Stereotypical Words Percent.png
Question 5

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.