Penn researchers develop VR Narcan training for smartphones

A screen capture from the Narcan VR training shows role players acting out overdose treatment. (Courtesy of Penn Nursing)

A screen capture from the Narcan VR training shows role players acting out overdose treatment. (Courtesy of Penn Nursing)

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a smartphone-based virtual reality Narcan tutorial that’s proven as effective as real-world training in a recent pilot study.

Narcan is a widely available opioid overdose reversal drug administered as a nasal spray. A team made up of faculty from the university’s schools of nursing and communication based the training on role-playing scenarios used in the classroom to train Penn nursing students.

Ann-Marie Hoyt Brennan, a Penn registered nurse and simulation education specialist, says the team wanted to export that experience from their classroom out to clinics.

”If we use virtual reality, we can continue for it to be immersive and our participants can be really engaged in the situation or event, but we could reach more people,” she said.  

The scenario has users encounter, evaluate and treat a patient with a potential overdose, and includes a debrief session after the patient recovers, where clinicians discuss treatment options.

The researchers’ next step is to develop a version designed for those outside a clinical setting.

“We’re going to film it so that it’s a little less catered to healthcare providers and more to lay, individuals, nonhealth care providers, members in our community,” said Hoyt Brennan.  “So you don’t have to be a nurse or an EMT or physician to take the training.”

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