St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario is conducting a new forensic psychiatric program that will be exposing healthcare employees to the reality of living in an isolated setting. The healthcare giant is hoping to build more supportive relationships with patients confined to seclusion rooms with this new training program.

The program, which is lead by Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, a Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences professor at McMaster University and Head of Services and Forensics at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, will use VR simulations. The first will be a basic hospital seclusion room with no windows or bathrooms and the second will be a low lit prison cell. The environment was created by Ottawa-based VR/AR developers SimWave, where they used photos taken of actual hospitals and prisons to create the rooms.

During the experience the staff must gain the attention of in-game hospital staff in order to use the restroom. The participant can call out for help and will be met with 10 predetermined responses that can range from, “Yes, we’ll get you something,” to “Hold on a sec, we’re a little bit busy right now.”

Chairmowitz and his team are hoping that by placing healthcare workers in the shoes of their patients, hospital staff will be able to have a stronger and more supportive relationship with them.

“We wanted to see what it was like to be on the other side of the door,” said Chaimowitz. “I think many of us can imagine, or recall times when you’ve been in places by yourself, when you didn’t want to be by yourself, left alone, but this puts you, as a staff person, in our rooms.”

Staff have removed their headsets from discomfort and issues with enclosed, tight places, not to mention the lack of human interaction.

“We’re looking at how long you can be in there before you get anxious and what it’s like to have a different staff response, the idea being that we are going to try and sensitize staff to what it’s like to be on the inside, which might change the way they interact with patients, both in terms of their tone and also a recognition of what it’s like to be there.”

The VR training classes are currently being held at St. Joseph’s Healthcare with the hopes to eventually introduce the technology to other healthcare facilities and penitentiaries.