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Med Students Experience Diseases Firsthand with Alfred Lab VR

Med Students Experience Diseases Firsthand with Alfred Lab VR

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The Alfred Lab is a new VR experience that allows people — particularly med students — the chance to experience diseases and medical conditions firsthand. This unique opportunity affords users a compassion, awareness, and relatability that was not possible prior unless they, too, actually suffered from the disease in real life.

The Alfred Lab is the brainchild of Embodied Labs’ CEO and founder Carrie Shaw, 29. Shaw, a medical illustrator and health educator, discovered the need for this type of technology after her mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Shaw realized how difficult it was for her (and her mother) to convey her mother’s needs to the visiting nurses because the issues she was facing were so specific and unique. When Shaw was finally able to show the nurses what her mother was experiencing, particularly relating to her line of vision, the nurses were able to strategize a plan of action which led to implementing practical solutions and a better health prognosis.

The Alfred Lab allows users to become “Alfred,”a 74-year-old African-American man with advanced macular degeneration and high-frequency hearing loss. As Alfred, you experience your own birthday party, in which you can barely hear (or see) your own family singing happy birthday to you. You also go to doctors’ appointments in which you struggle to hear, and perform tests with great difficulty.

“A lot of medical training focuses on treating a patient’s disease, but it’s so much more than that,” said Erin Washington, 33, Shaw’s sister and Embodied Lab’s Spokeswoman and Curriculum Architect. “When Alfred puts on a hearing aid, that’s a big A-HA moment for most people because they realize they’ve been straining to hear the whole time,” Washington said. “We wanted people to experience that frustration and isolation. We wanted people to experience what it feels like to have someone speak for them.”

University of New England, University of California, Irvine, University of Illinois at Chicago and Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands are the only four schools world wide that have implemented the use of this technology.

It has received a lot of positive feedback from students and the University of New England has decided to make it part of their fixed curriculum. “It’s the only way young people can truly understand what it’s like to have something like macular degeneration and hearing loss,” said Marilyn Gugliucci, Ph.D., professor and director of geriatrics education and research at the college.

For now, Embodied Labs is focusing on geriatric issues. Future areas of innovation will help health care workers understand patients who are dealing with cancer, mental illness, obesity, literacy and language barriers, sexual and gender identity issues, and childhood disabilities and diseases. This is yet another example of how VR will be changing the future of medicine and health care in the near future. The Alfred Lab is compatible on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, Leap Motion devices, and VR ready computers.

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