Volunteering and International Psychiatry Special Interest Group (VIPSIG) Annual Conference: A Blog by Dr Felix Clay

I’m currently undertaking a six-month NIHR CLAHRC funded Academic Apprenticeship having completed my Core Psychiatry Medical Training. As part of my placement I’m undertaking a systematic review of the literature on the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology in the assessment, understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. This is an exciting and fast moving area and this years Volunteering and International Psychiatry Special Interest Group (VIPSIG) conference was very relevant being on the topic of e-Learning and VR technology in Global Mental Health. I formed my initial ideas into a poster which I presented.

The discussion was broad and inclusive. I was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the panel members and group for expanding the remit of their expertise beyond usual care into global health and embracing innovative technology to assist with this. We started off with an interesting talk by Dr Anis Ahmad from West Midlands Forensic Psychiatry service who is using video conferencing to bring together trainees from five sites as a virtual community. The wide service area made consistent face to face meetings impractical. Dr Ahmad discussed the challenges of turn-taking/ technology cutting-out, but also highlighted great benefits including the reduced cost and time saved, and even the possibility of international speakers from Holland and USA on their 2018 timetable.

Other interesting talks came from the Kings Somaliland group who were supporting education in Somaliland via regular links to London experts. They emphasised the importance of keeping technology simple, blended learning and cultural humility with UK experts improving their own practice as a result of shared learning.

In the afternoon we heard about use of virtual avatars for reformulating personal difficulties from David Tinkler who has developed his Proreal app for this purpose. I practiced framing my experience of the conference in the software with some surprising results as I explored my nervousness about what others might think of me and practiced switching to their perspective. We also experienced VR worlds via Occulus Rift software and with the help of the Mindwave team and in a linked workshop problem solved around possible future technology use in mental health.

Mindwave CEO Kumar Jacob gave very useful advice which I will critically consider when reviewing the VR literature around Alzheimer’s disease: ‘Always start with a problem and think how you might provide a solution’. Starting with a perceived solution (e.g. VR) then trying to find a problem predictably leads to a muddle. This conference was a great springboard to my wider review; as well as increasing my experience of the interface with the technology industry and trying out some applications I also gained several contacts and references I will explore during the project.

“Always start with a problem and think how you might provide a solution”

Share this article
Tweet about this on Twitter