Immersive media flips the script to teach empathy

How Dr. Seema Marwaha is using digital technology to understand the patient’s point of view.

You’re a newcomer trying to navigate the health-care system but you don’t know the language. You’re going through a mental health crisis while in the emergency department and can’t understand what’s going on around you. And health-care staff don’t seem to know what you’re going through. Now they will.

Working with patients and virtual reality and immersive media developers, St. Michael’s Dr. Seema Marwaha and a team of scientists have come up with a solution. They’ve designed “embodied” experiences, a 360-degree view headset that plays videos to help professionals understand what patients see, hear and feel during their health-care experience.   

Dr. Marwaha, a general internal medicine physician, says she came up with the idea when she was delving into why patients have negative experiences. She discovered that most had to do with communication: patients not understanding what was happening, the team unreachable to answer questions, providers using medical jargon, and language barriers.

In the project pilot, Marwaha’s team developed three videos: a Code Blue simulation (a medical emergency, like cardiac arrest);  a mental health scenario in which a patient is having a schizophrenic episode; and an emergency department depiction in which everyone receiving care speak English but the professionals delivering the care do not.

The team tested it on medical students and discovered it taught empathy. The students felt the frustration, stress and fear that patients were experiencing. It puts the students in the patient’s shoes. And the students said it made them think more deeply about how they practice medicine and interact with patients.  

Dr. Marwaha believes the technology has great promise. “We often think we know what people who are different from us are battling,” she says. “But we really don’t know what it’s like to be treated when you’re a patient experiencing homelessness, or you belong to a racialized community, or you’re a frail older adult with dementia. If we can feel and sense through the patients’ perspective, then we can change how they experience care.”

To learn more about HUMANCARE, our movement to reinvent Canada’s patient experience, click here

00:00