12 August 2022 at 4:05 pm

PIF Recipient: Virtual Medical Coaching

Virtual Medical Coaching is a New Zealand education technology company on a mission to solve a real, global problem – pregnancy-related deaths. 

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In the United States alone, approximately 800 women die each year during pregnancy and within 42 days after delivery. More than 60% of those deaths are believed to be preventable. In developing countries, the rate of pregnancy-related deaths is up to 300 times higher. 

An important part of the solution is education. Globally, midwives are in high demand, with the UK’s NHS increasing their places for student midwives by 3000, starting this year. Australia is also planning to increase numbers, while in New Zealand, a funding boost will increase the number of Māori and Pacific students training in midwifery. 

While the demand for midwifery training is growing, education offerings haven’t kept up. Childbirth is deeply personal, and feedback from mothers – validated by hospital staff – is that they do not wish to have extra staff or students in the room for training. With no effective opportunities for face-to-face learning, there is a global need for a realistic and scalable childbirth simulation. 

That’s where Virtual Medical Coaching’s vision comes in, supported as a recipient of the International Education Product Innovation Fund. Virtual reality (VR) software will provide a safe and controlled environment for students to see and assist in childbirth simulations, both with and without complications and in a range of different scenarios. As the student improves, the simulations they encounter increase in difficulty. A machine-learning algorithm enables fast and accurate feedback to both the learner and any tutors. 

The simulation will be interactive and responsive, meaning that any action taken by a student creates a life-like consequence and reaction. The outcome is that learners are taught to effectively make decisions and problem solve. 

Existing options for midwifery training include a physical mannequin simulator, but this can be prohibitively expensive, out of reach of many training providers, and doesn’t offer students maximum learning hours. In addition, existing options don’t include the ability to witness mechanisms like rotations/restitutions or the ability to have back and forth conversations. By contrast, the VR simulation will be available to students wherever they are, and whenever they need to practice. The nature of the VR experience means that modern learning styles, such as asynchronous and remote learning, are well catered for. 

With support from the International Education Product Innovation Fund, Virtual Medical Coaching’s childbirth simulation is on track to become fully released by the end of 2024. A beta-version is already used by some educators globally. The Product Innovation Fund is a New Zealand Government-funded initiative to reimagine what a New Zealand education can look like and mean for global learners.  

Managed by Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao (ENZ), New Zealand’s government agency for international education, the fund is supporting a range of pilot projects from existing and emerging New Zealand education providers. Together, the projects rethink how an education experience from New Zealand can be delivered, and create impact, for global learners. 

For Virtual Medical Coaching, it’s about finding a better solution to a serious issue. Like many other innovative Kiwi education technology companies, Virtual Medical Coaching is designing technology that will create positive impact around the world. It’s already successfully developed an x-ray simulation for healthcare professionals which has won multiple national and international awards. Now, with the support of ENZ through the International Education Product Innovation Fund, Virtual Medical Coaching is set to respond to a clear need for better midwifery training options and develop another cutting-edge learning product for both New Zealand and offshore markets. 

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