How a virtual reality app is being used to support GP recruitment

A virtual reality app, which shows what it is like to be a GP in the NHS, is being used to support international recruitment and to inspire A-level students to consider a career in general practice.

Dr Mehreen Tahir (left) and Dr Lauren Wogan are both working on developing the app
Dr Mehreen Tahir (left) and Dr Lauren Wogan are both working on developing the app

The app, which has been developed by the GMC, NHS England and Health Education England, follows fictional patient Mrs Thompson who has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Filmed in a practice in south west London, the app allows users to access the patient's thoughts, ideas and worries at different points in her journey and to see the role GPs and other members of the primary care team play.

Speaking at the RCGP's online conference A Fresh Approach to General Practice on Thursday, London GP and NHS England clinical lead Dr Mehreen Tahir, who helped develop the app, said that it focused on areas of medicine research had shown international GPs struggled with. All of the scripts have been checked by the GMC and practising clinicians and the content is mapped to GMC guidance.

'The user is able to experience different points throughout [Mrs Thompson's] journey from the very beginning,' she said. 'For example, how does she book a GP appointment? Does she come and wait in a waiting room like a lot of the EU doctors were telling us their patients do? Or actually would you experience how she uses the website, or uses an app, or phones up the practice to book an appointment?

Primary care team

'The user will be able to look around the waiting room notice signs, for example about chaperoning about the latest flu clinic. But also quite uniquely, they'll be able to talk directly to Mrs Thompson and hear what she is actually experiencing.'

Users also meet other members of the primary care team, including receptionists and practice nurses, along with members of Mrs Thompson's family. Another section allows them to visit a local pharmacy where the pharmacist explains his role and users can look at what the pharmacy stocks.

'[The pharmacist explains how] repeat prescriptions work, what is the electronic prescribing system,' Dr Tahir explained.

'However, the user can actually look over their shoulder and if you chose to do that, you would be faced with a shelf full of over-the-counter products. And so the international GP might actually be able to walk closer to the product, have a look at what a patient can actually buy, what is the cost of things.

'All of these aspects of the NHS are things that I think as trainees we we understand and we pick up sort of unconsciously. But this sort of technology allows the international GP or the user to really immerse themselves in the experience and learn about aspects of care which they may never have experienced.'

Virtual reality app

The app can be used directly on a smartphone or tablet, a virtual reality headset, or a Google cardboard viewing box can be assembled for users to place their phone in and then use as a headset.

Alongside the virtual reality experience there are also additional films and quizzes to check ongoing learning.

While the app was initially developed to support recruitment and to help those hoping to apply to the international GP recruitment programme to learn about general practice it has since been used with Year 13 students to show them what life in general practice is really like.

Dr Lauren Wogan, a third year GP trainee and GP leadership fellow at Health Education England, told the conference that she had been looking at how the app could be used to help encourage people from under represented backgrounds to consider a career in medicine.

'Research suggests that these students are much more likely to eventually work back in the area that they're from, that would improve health inequalities, patient outcomes and patient satisfaction scores,' she said.

Use in schools

'As a previous widening participation student myself, I understand the difficulties that students from lower socioeconomic classes can have. One of the difficult things I encountered when I applied for medicine was the lack of work experience opportunities, [which is] often organised by a family member who already works within healthcare. As a first doctor in my family, this wasn't available to me.

'What I really really love about the app is the fact that it's accessible to everybody. It doesn't matter if you're the first doctor or the seventh, you can access it at home or at school.'

Dr Wogan said that the app had been used in a sixth form college in Hull and another in Plymouth. She said that all the students found the app gave them a more positive view of being a GP and strengthened their view of perhaps being a GP in the future.

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