Saoirse Hartley, a fourth year Applied Health Care student in Waterford Institute of Technology, has been awarded a coveted summer student internship funded by the Health Research Board (HRB). This 6 week scholarship will involve Saoirse stepping out of her comfort zone to work alongside the tech experts in TSSG, the ICT research centre based in WIT’s West Campus.
The project, titled ‘A Medical perspective on how Virtual Reality can be used to assist people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)’, is a collaboration between the Dept. of Nursing & Heath Care in WIT and the virtual reality (VR) team in TSSG. This research is being carried out with the aim of identifying biometric signal ranges – and how best they may be acquired – which should be monitored for determining emotional state of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder when they are in VR experiences. This could have significant implications for the development of personalised adaptive content of VR based education and training exercises for people with ASD. The potential outcomes of these personalised experiences would be advances in social skills and emotional awareness for the user which could lead to a better quality of life.
Meet Saoirse Hartley
What are you studying in Waterford Institute of Technology?
I am studying a BSc in Applied Health Care in the Department of Nursing & Health Care.
Why did you decide to submit for this Health Research Board (HRB) summer internship?
I applied for the HRB summer internship as I wanted to improve my research skills and believed this would be a good opportunity to do so. I was applying for my Master’s in Nursing and thought I could bring the skills I learn from this internship into the masters programme. I was also very interested in the research topic on how virtual reality (VR) can assist people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
What project are you working on with the team in TSSG?
The project I am working on is ‘A Medical Perspective on how Virtual Reality can be used to assist people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)’. With the guidance of my supervisor, I am investigating and exploring the biometric signals that indicate a person’s emotional state, health issues and how these can be considered for VR interventions while indicating the most viable methods for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) during their VR experience.
Have you had previous exposure to VR technologies and their capabilities?
Yes, I have had experiences with VR systems in a social aspect. They are very realistic and they do take over a lot of your senses such as sound and sight. I can see how VR systems can be used as a benefit to enhance skills in different areas such as teamwork, education, fitness, rehabilitation or as an escape while in a safe environment. I am very interested to see how VR software will progress in the future and to see the benefits it will bring to numerous people.
Do you think it is important for nurses to gain more exposure and insights around ICT technologies and their potential impact in the patient healthcare sector?
Yes, I do think it is important not just for nurses but for every healthcare professional to gain more exposure to ICT technologies. Technology is becoming a big part of the health care sector such as eHealth, Telehealth and for communication purposes. Technology is also being used to promote patient care, patient education and health promotion. For example, during the covid-19 pandemic people were no longer attending their doctor’s surgery unless it was an emergency. People were receiving consultations via phones; face time and prescriptions were being sent through various technology resources rather than handwritten which also reduces the risk of error. This shows the need for ICT technologies to become more permanent in the healthcare sector. I also believe the impacts from ICT would not only benefit the healthcare sector by reducing errors but also make it easier to share patient information between teams and organizations, improve patient care with follow up calls while reducing overcrowding and waiting times within the hospital.
How will this experience benefit you in your future career?
I believe the benefits from this experience will enable me to have a spirit of enquiry when engaging in research. Research is an important part of nursing practice and I feel this experience will encourage me to engage in evidenced based research that will enhance my nursing career. I also believe I will be more accepting and open minded to the use of ICT technologies within the healthcare sector, this experience will enable me to look outside the box when involved with patient care and interventions providing a better quality of care to patients.
Would you recommend this experience to colleagues?
Yes, I think this is a great experience for anyone interested in digital health and medical technologies while improving patient centred care, rehabilitation, and interventions. This experience also benefits the participants by improving their research techniques.