A Virtual Reality Curriculum to Enhance Residents' Behavioral Health Anticipatory Guidance Skills: A Pilot Trial

Acad Pediatr. 2022 Jul 21;S1876-2859(22)00356-4. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2022.07.011. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Effective educational strategies to train and assess residents' skills in behavioral health competencies have been limited. We hypothesized that a training curriculum using virtual reality (VR) simulations would enhance residents' evidence-based skills related to behavioral health anticipatory guidance (BHAG) and motivational interviewing (MI).

Methods: We conducted a randomized controlled pilot trial of our curriculum within an urban academic clinic. Intervention and control groups received four 15-minute, monthly didactics on BHAG and MI followed by VR simulations to 1) deliberately practice delivering BHAG by verbally counseling avatars, who responded real-time (intervention group) or 2) assessing pediatric respiratory distress (control group). Two months post-VR training, all residents participated in a unique VR behavioral health scenario which was recorded and coded by pediatric psychologists via an observation instrument to assess residents' skills. Differences in BHAG and MI competencies were assessed via independent samples t tests for continuous variables and Fisher's exact tests for categorical variables.

Results: Sixty-six percent (n = 55) of eligible residents completed all study protocols comprising 35 intervention and 20 control participants. Intervention participants demonstrated an increase in BHAG skills (P = .002), percentage of open-ended questions asked (P = .04), and percentage of MI adherent behaviors (P = .04) when compared to the control group.

Conclusions: VR may be an effective educational strategy for residents to acquire BHAG and MI skills though deliberate practice. Next steps will focus on assessing the generalizability of the VR curriculum as well as exploring the opportunities to enhance its scalability through artificial intelligence.

Keywords: behavioral health; medical education; motivational interviewing; resident education; virtual reality.