How to use VR safely during the pandemic – Sharing our approach to hygiene and infection control for VR, with a protocol for best practise.
VR hygiene is an area that has always been given consideration at the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust (TSDFT). Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, our infection control protocol involved the use of disposable face masks and using antibacterial wipes to clean headsets between every use. However, in current times of COVID-19 outbreak, VR hygiene has become critical. VR Head Mounted Devices (HMDs) are used by multiple users and slight lapse in infection control could lead to transmission of a virus and potential cluster formation.
To design our VR HMD infection control protocol for COVID-19, we researched hygiene protocols followed by other VR companies and researchers. Following is the protocol we put together and was signed off by Infection Control at TSDFT.
The SARS-COV-2 virus is highly contagious, and precautions must be taken to ensure that VR HMD’s do not transmit the virus between users. This document presents protocol that is currently followed at TSDFT.
VR is proving to be an effective tool for healthcare education and training. At the TSDFT, we have developed several VR interventions that can be implemented to train and educate healthcare professionals and medical students during the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure protection of users and technicians, we have thoroughly trained all staff responsible for handling VR HMDs in infection control. Following are the precautions we have taken,
VR HMD foam
VR HMD’s have stock foam which is highly absorbent and collects sweat and aerosolised droplets. This foam cannot be wiped down easily. In addition wiping this foam with santising wipes risks damaging the foam.
Leather covers: We have replaced foam with leather covered variants from a third party company- VR Covers. The leather covers can be wiped without damage. In addition to sanitising wipes, we aim to use silicone-based cleaning products that can provide an improved wicking effect for moisture. Apart from being an acceptable replacement for foam, leather covers also provide enhanced comfort for the user.
Disposable face masks: Each individual user receives a hygienically packed disposable face mask. The mask has a slit where the eyes are for the user to view the experience. As the mask provides a layer between skin and the device, no direct skin-to-headset contact occurs. Disposable face masks come with ear loops to ensure the mask fits snugly on the user’s head.
Sanitisation of VR HMD
VR HMDs must be cleaned in between each use to ensure no viral transmission occurs.
The outer casings, eye-mask and head-straps of the VR HMD are wiped down thoroughly using 1000ppm chlorine wipes. Next the headset is placed in a UV Cleanbox. This method of cleaning uses an array of UV-C LED’s that sterilise the inside of the headset. UV Cleanbox takes 1-minute to sterilise the HMD.
Step-by-step process for sanitisation of the VR HMD
Technician wears Level 2 PPE to handle and wipe the HMD using 1000 ppm chlorine wipes
Upon cleaning, the headset is placed inside the UV Cleanbox.
After 1-minute of sterilisation in the UV Cleanbox, the headset is left there until required by next user.
Cycle is repeated between every user. Facilitator changes PPE between every user.
Facilitator follows NHS guidelines for social distancing and hand washing.
*VR experiences in the TSDFT well-being room can only be accessed by 1 user at a time. Multiple users may be difficult to manage and may collide into one another, breaking social distancing guidelines.