NHS now using VR for blood transfusion matching

4th March 2024
Paige West

A man in need of regular blood transfusions explored how blood is matched using a virtual reality package launched by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).

The 'NHSBT Blood Identification' app, NHSBT's first venture into virtual reality training, offers a lifelike simulation of blood testing procedures critical for transfusions, expanding access to its top-tier training for those interested in pursuing careers in biomedical or transfusion science.

Rajpal Singh from St George's, Bristol, who requires ongoing transfusions for thalassaemia, visited the NHSBT's Filton site to partake in a lab training session. There, he learned about matching blood types for safe transfusions using both the innovative VR app and actual lab equipment.

This VR training tool, now available on the Meta Quest App Lab store, immerses users in a virtual transfusion lab where they meet a patient and are guided through testing blood samples and selecting the appropriate blood for transfusion. The app provides immediate feedback, illustrating the serious consequences of mismatched transfusions by showing the virtual effects on red cells and the patient's heart monitor.

The app not only aims to offer an engaging training experience but also seeks to raise awareness of the transfusion science field and attract new talent to the profession. NHSBT encourages its use in secondary schools, colleges, and universities to inspire future generations towards careers in transfusion science, addressing the recruitment challenges in NHS transfusion labs. With around 1.4 million blood components issued annually by NHSBT, proper blood transfusion training is vital for patient safety, as mismatches can lead to potentially fatal reactions.

Image courtesy of NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT)

Developed in collaboration with Make Real, the app's 14-minute experience takes users through the process of testing a blood sample, selecting, and administering the correct blood unit, with the VR handset providing a realistic feel of handling lab instruments.

Rajpal Singh, a 43-year-old Housing Officer from St George's, relies on bi-weekly transfusions at the Bristol Royal Infirmary to manage his thalassaemia major. These transfusions are crucial for maintaining his energy levels and overall health, requiring 52 units of blood annually to avoid severe complications.

Raj, a husband, and father shared his enthusiasm for the VR blood matching experience: "Blood transfusions give me energy – I am lethargic and can't really concentrate before a transfusion but afterwards I am full of energy. They enable me to live as normal a life as possible. Without them, life would be very difficult and ultimately, I would die.

"It was really exciting and informative to able to visit and try the virtual reality blood matching. The use of the headset enhanced the immersive experience, and it was great to see what the process is when cross matching blood. I also enjoyed the experience of going into the lab and using real laboratory equipment.

“There’s lots of innovation in the NHS at the moment with better blood matching and it’s reassuring to know blood is matched, safe and available. There is a need for blood donors especially people who have the less common blood groups, for example of black and Asian heritage.”

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