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Difficult Conversations

Mobile VR application for Health and Social care students to practise difficult conversations and advance their soft skills.

Year: 2022 Duration: 3 months Platform: Mobile App Industry: Health & Social Care


The Clients

The University of the Highlands and Islands is a tertiary institution composed of academic partners including 13 colleges and research institutions located in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that deliver Higher and Further Education to over 30,000 students.

Lakes College is a Further Education institution located at Lillyhall, West Cumbria,

England, with approximately 5,500 full and part-time students and over 200 courses and apprenticeships.

The Challenge

Audience of the Future is supported by UKRI as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which has invested £39.3m in the development of new immersive technologies

such as virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. The aim of this competition is to support early-stage projects to generate ideas that meet customer needs, using research and human-centred design principles.

The motivation for this project is to explore and evaluate how virtual reality (VR) could enhance the health and social care curriculum in Higher and Further education (HE/FE) by addressing the need for more engaging, easily accessible and affordable training.

Today, the NHS employs 1.4m people while a further 1.6m people work in social care. This equates to 10% of the UK’s working population, all of whom are required to undertake annual mandatory training. There are workforce shortages of 1.2m in the NHS and 1.1m in adult social care, and the demand for training is ever-increasing. The health and social care sector is in crisis with a 30% staff turnover, an ageing workforce and new workers leaving in droves. More than 50% of people enrolled on adult social care apprenticeships drop out, with only 3,240 of 19–24-year-olds finishing courses during the academic year 2019/20.

The Unexpected Problem

During the early stages of this project, due to the rising case numbers of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, we decided to minimise the live-action and in-person filming, due to concerns for the elderly actors’ health and safety. This opened a Pandora’s box of challenges and potential solutions for how we would create a high-quality project that was in scope and met the client’s needs without sacrificing any learning effectiveness or impact.

The Solution

One of our key approaches was to conduct remote co-design workshops with client groups, subject matter experts, and end users. After conducting research and gathering information from these workshops, we decided to develop two immersive episodes regarding difficult conversations. Both experiences were developed and tested on our mobile app.

End Of Life Conversation

With all of this in mind, the content we co-designed with UHI was selected to be made graphically rather than live-action shot. The episode features a patient named Richard who has been informed that his disease is now at an end-stage, and wishes to discuss what he wants to happen when he passes. Another key character featured in the episode is Richard’s wife Mary, who does not wish to talk about this subject at all. The purpose of this episode is to make use of the patient care processes and to support Richard’s decisions while ensuring that he and his wife’s time together is as good as can be as they prepare for the end.

Supporting Bipolar Patients

The Lakes College project was kept as a live-action episode. It features a young woman named Jamelie who enters A&E and appears to be anxious and paranoid, and has been unable to provide any information to the receptionist other than her name. The purpose of this episode is to use relational communication and a person-centred approach to calm her down and find out what had brought her to A&E so she can be assessed and treated appropriately.

The Results

“This has been an excellent experience which I feel the whole college would benefit, staff and learners and should be taken further nationally”.

– Educator

Overall, both episodes were received very positively as they achieved a score of 93% in regard to satisfaction from learners. Both Lakes College and UHI have expressed their desire to work with us on future projects and that they felt involved with the project from its conception to the final product. In conclusion, The VR Hive have found this project indispensable in our company’s progression and the lessons that we have taken away will inform our future projects in this space.

Learner Testimonial

“A very novel and innovative way to learn about difficult conversations at the end of life. The content has the potential to help users feel 'more prepared' for having these conversations in real practice and allows consideration of the type and style of approaches and the impact that these may have upon the patient/their relatives. Overall, a fantastic resource that I hope is integrated into the nursing curriculum.”

– Learner

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