Virtual reality stimulates a paradigm shift in the national healthcare delivery model for Australian Defence Force personnel.

The Joint Health Command (JHC), led by the dual hatted Commander Joint Health and Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), is responsible for the delivery of healthcare services, including preventative and proactive healthcare, to maintain the operational readiness of Australia’s deployable defence forces.

The JHC Garrison Facilities Upgrade was a significant achievement in response to improving health facilities for personnel across 12 sites nationally. The upgrades support onbase medical services to ensure that personnel are fit and free from illness to be able to perform effectively under operational conditions. Each new or upgraded facility is a combination of an advanced civilian general practice clinic with aspects that reflect a small regional hospital and best-practice pharmacy.

To support JHC’s vision, Aurecon delivered project management and contract administration services. Within this role, a virtual reality experience was provided so that informed decisions could be made about the layout and design of each facility.

JHC Garrison Facilities Upgrade Project. (Source: Aurecon)

Stepping into the virtual world

On average, personnel move sites every two years, so consequently the JHC wanted to build healthcare facilities that felt familiar to personnel at each location. To achieve a common look and feel, the virtual reality design experience combined technical information with human interaction to convey the project’s design and obtain feedback from stakeholders. It transported stakeholders ‘inside’ the designs which engaged and excited them.

The overwhelming ‘aha moment’ came when JHC personnel lowered the virtual reality goggles over their eyes. They were able to walk around in the virtual world, moving through their designs like never before. The arrangement of internal spaces was discussed, the efficiency of wayfinding signage was determined, and the most appropriate layout for clinical equipment was decided.

Virtual reality helped the project stakeholders to visualise the internal layouts of the healthcare facilities – and resulted in meaningful and informed stakeholder feedback for inclusion in the design component of the project. For example, while immersed in the virtual reality experience, JHC personnel realised that the original dental clinic layout was not functional.

3D tools helped project stakeholders visualise the internal layouts of the facilities and resulted in meaningful and informed feedback. (Source: Department of Defence, Australia)

In real-time, they were able to reconfigure the sink and chair, and reorient the rooms, to better suit the clinicians and patients. The experience also led to some changes of furniture types, and fittings and equipment selections, to be more suitable for their function in the building spaces. Engaging with stakeholders through the virtual reality experience provided a unique opportunity to experience the health facilities in a fully immersive virtual environment during design development.

With 12 sites across the country, there was a large volume of national, regional and local stakeholders to engage with. Stakeholders had disparate degrees of oversight on the JHC’s strategic direction. Aurecon was instrumental in communicating JHC’s vision to the project stakeholders, and actively listened to their needs and worked through their feedback, changes and impacts. Key issues were escalated to the JHC for further consideration and final decision making. Overall, the project was designed to cater for the way health services will be delivered in the future rather than how they are being delivered now.

This new model of care and facilities for the JHC represents a substantial change to the requirements of a health facility. It is the beginning of a paradigm shift that challenges the traditional ways to consider not only healthcare delivery, but also infrastructure management and digital design. This project was an important element of the broader strategic initiative of JHC to increase standardisation of health service delivery across the command. The management, stakeholder engagement and digital approach allowed innovation to flourish that pushed the boundaries of imagination and creativity.