Take the latest VB Survey to share how your company is implementing AI today.

Virtual reality showed great potential for medical training well before the coronavirus pandemic, letting surgeons practice on digital patients while students experimented in virtual labs. As hospitals across the world rushed nurses and doctors into the fight against COVID-19, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) invited VR training company Virti to join its innovation accelerator program, commissioning a study to quantify VR’s value in educating hospitals’ frontline workers. Today, Virti released early results from the study, spotlighting the strong use case COVID-19 created for VR medical training, and hinting at its potential for broader adoption across other enterprises.

The NHS study compared two training groups — one using Virti’s VR system and a control group using traditional instruction — across skills needed to treat COVID-19 patients, including hand washing, using personal protective equipment, and resuscitating an unresponsive patient. Each of 50 participants was individually assessed and graded on performing the trained tasks, then the two groups’ overall scores were compared.

According to Virti, the study confirmed significant improvements when using VR rather than traditional training: 92% of the VR participants were deemed to adequately understand infection control measures, compared with only 16% of the control group, while post-training performance increased by over 230% for the VR group, versus 16.75% for the control group. Users of the VR system also self-reported lower anxiety levels when dealing with COVID-19 scenarios — a non-trivial factor in enabling frontline workers to perform without assistance.

The NHS study’s numbers reflect even stronger performance than what’s been seen in other VR training settings. In 2018, Walmart trainers reported VR test score improvements of 10-15% for retail employees, as well as boosts in both confidence and retention — enough for the company to buy 17,000 Oculus Go headsets for VR training. Airbus separately claimed an 86% reduction in aircraft production inspection times as the result of VR training. Results will obviously vary based on the quality of the VR training system, the type of instruction, and the specific workers being trained, among other factors.

Based on the NHS research and a health economics study, Virti suggests that organizations will save $2,800 per VR-trained practitioner per year across training, productivity gains, and stress reduction. Though that number is a broad estimate, and it factors in savings from the trainee personally avoiding COVID-19 infection (thus reducing workplace absenteeism), there’s certainly value in the more modern training approach — and not just to health care professionals. As other businesses wrestle with reopening physical locations, offering training through $199 VR headsets may be easier than trying to corral groups of people in offices or classrooms for traditional instruction.

Virti offers training systems customized to individual enterprises, health care providers, schools, and the military, as well as charities. Its VR training can be accessed from Oculus Go, Quest, and Rift headsets, as well as HTC’s Vive and Focus. Users without VR headsets can view the content non-immersively through “modern” smartphones and tablets, largely including devices made within the last four years.