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Preparing Pediatric Cardiology Staff for Difficult Conversations | Strivr Blog

With immersive learning, physicians are able to learn and practice the skills needed to better communicate and navigate difficult conversations with patients’ families.

of learners validated XR training efficacy in navigating difficult conversations
of learners indicated they would want to take the immersive training again
of learners felt more confident in their ability to deliver bad news with empathy

The challenge

If we can teach providers to overcome their own discomfort and to feel relaxed in these demanding situations, then we have managed to impact not only medical education but also the experiences of parents faced with the impossibility of a critically ill child.
Loren Sacks, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford

The average pediatric cardiologist is inspired by the idea of helping sick children recover and one day live a healthy life. But the reality doesn’t always play out this way. Difficult conversations are an unavoidable aspect of the job, and physicians are often drastically unprepared for them. While empathy and compassion are key in such conversations, the ability to deliver bad news calmly and clearly is equally important.

With this in mind, Stanford Children’s Hospital approached Strivr to develop an immersive learning program that would allow physicians to practice navigating difficult conversations and delivering bad news to families.

The solution

As a physician, I can think of no interaction that is more emotionally charged than the delivery of bad news to a mother or father. Parents remember every aspect of the discussion, while medical providers are often not prepared to guide such a daunting conversation.
Loren Sacks, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford

With immersive learning, Stanford Children’s Hospital was able to facilitate preparedness when it comes to soft skills — namely the ability to navigate difficult conversations under intense conditions to find the balance of empathy and clinical delivery.

For this initiative, pediatric cardiology fellows from around the country underwent an immersive learning experience that allowed them to practice end-of-life conversations with parents of terminally ill children on life support. In-headset coaching helped guide the conversations as scenarios played out in-headset.

Course details

Target learners

Pediatric cardiology fellows

XR content modality

Computer generated VR

XR use case(s)

  • Empathy
  • Effective communication
  • Navigating difficult conversations

TRAINING duration

20 minutes

Learning objectives

  • Navigate difficult conversations under intense conditions
  • Learn to balance empathy with clinical delivery
  • Experience real emotional response to a situation

The impact

Immersive training allows physicians to simulate repeatable, real-world scenarios to ensure they are prepared when they need it most.
Loren Sacks, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford

During the immersive learning experience, 70% of learners reported feeing “real discomfort” close to the same level of discomfort they’d experience in a real-life conversation. Additionally, the percentage of pediatric oncology fellows who felt not at all prepared to engage in difficult conversations with parents before VR training fell from 14% percent to 0% after VR training.

“I was ecstatic to see such strong results from the pilot testing of the program,” said Dr. Loren Sacks, Pediatric Cardiologist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. “If trainees report a real benefit from the training after a single session with one scenario, that benefit can only multiply with additional scenarios and the ability to repeat the experience.”

With the on-demand nature of the training, fellows could repeat the experience until they felt they’d reached an appropriate level of comfort in the conversation. Now, when they must deliver bad news in real life, they have both a calmer demeanor and a stronger empathetic connection with the patient and the family.

Pediatric cardiology fellows who participated in the VR training program believe this type of training will help them do their jobs better and serve as a great example of how immersive learning can be used to enable practice of critical soft skills for medical providers.

With Strivr,
Stanford Children’s Hospital
was able to:
  • Validate virtual reality as an effective medium for building and strengthening soft skills.
  • Equip pediatric cardiology fellows with skills, strategies, and techniques to clearly, calmly, and compassionately deliver bad news to parents.
  • Influence the positive sentiment of soft skills training with 95% of participants indicating they would take the training again.

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