Using Virtual Reality Training to Prevent Workplace Violence for Healthcare Workers

Using Virtual Reality Training to Prevent Workplace Violence for Healthcare Workers

During the pandemic, healthcare workers have been considered frontline workers, risking their lives to provide care. However, healthcare workers have always been exposed to everyday dangers, whether it be reactive violence from patients or targeted attacks. The number of incidents related to firearm attacks has increased in the United States, and healthcare workers are now five times more likely to experience workplace violence than any other industry. Effective training in such situations is necessary for de-escalating situations and protecting lives.

Kelly Busta, Senior Threat Assessment Officer at Keck Medicine of USC, identified the need to enhance safety training and received a grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security. She assembled a team, comprised of experts in civil and environmental engineering, psychology, and virtual reality technology, to develop a training program using immersive virtual reality environments (IVE).

The team decided to create a realistic virtual replica of a hospital building using the Unity platform. Training participants are challenged to make decisions in uncertain and dynamic circumstances, simulating the dynamic nature of firearm incidents. The IVE platform allows for narrative storytelling based on behavior, giving trainers the freedom to explore different behavioral options and uncover new subplots. This approach acknowledges that there are multiple possibilities in such situations.

The training utilizes an autonomous tracking system that monitors participants’ actions in real-time. Trainers are rewarded for quick security actions, which extends their survival time. Warnings about potentially disturbing content are provided for healthcare workers who may be sensitive to violence.

Virtual reality training not only has a greater impact than non-immersive media but is also more cost-effective than traditional training methods. It has the potential to be accessible to all stakeholders in the medical industry, from doctors to patients to security personnel, emphasizing their shared responsibility for personal and collective survival.

This project demonstrates how virtual reality can be applied as an ethical tool for research and training. It allows researchers to explore scenarios that would otherwise be costly or emotionally overwhelming. Currently, the training program is being tested on the USC campus and can be adapted for broader application.