Published May-June 2017
Academic Pediatrics

“Because the flu vaccine works” is good, but far from good enough.

That truth was the impetus behind a study that shows how communication training using virtual-reality (VR) can help physicians navigate through some caregivers’ hesitancy about the flu vaccine.

The VR goggle-wearing “lab mice” in this case were pediatric residents at Cincinnati Children’s.

Vaccine hesitancy is common, and some physicians can be uneasy discussing the topic. Until now, few studies have explored the potential influence of using VR simulations to practice discussing vaccine hesitancy.

The pilot curriculum consisted of three VR simulations during which residents counseled digital avatars designed to express common caregiver concerns.

“The technology is incredible,” says Joe Real, MD, MEd, of the Division of General and Community Pediatrics. “Residents consistently described the experience as immersive, realistic and fun. When you put on the virtual reality goggles, you truly feel like you are in a clinic room counseling a caregiver about the flu shot.”

The study found that residents in the VR intervention group had a lower vaccine refusal rate (27.8 percent) compared to the control group (37.1 percent.)

“We chose VR as our intervention strategy,” Real explains, “because we felt it would appeal to millennial learners who tend to be tech savvy and interested in realistic educational experiences with timely feedback.”

The study also involved researchers from the divisions of Hospital Medicine, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and the Department of Learning and Development.

Which strategies worked best? Being non-judgmental listeners and asking open-ended questions to explore vaccine hesitancy.