Virtual Reality in Medicine

Virtual Reality in Medicine is a three-dimensional teaching tool used across the field of healthcare as a means of both education and instruction. Virtual Reality commonly refers to simulated environments in which learners can experience visual stimuli delivered via computer graphics and other sensory experiences. This advancing technology allows learners to obtain the knowledge and understanding necessary to perform a number of tasks and procedures involving the human body, without ever having to practice on a live patient.

Central to this technology is the immersive capacity of Virtual Reality, meaning that the simulated environment surrounds a learner’s perceptual field. This means that the user feels psychologically present in the digital world, rather than in their physical reality.

Used to educate learners on diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, surgery, counseling techniques and more, Virtual Reality in Medicine is helping to train the next generation of healthcare professionals. This technology has shown to have a number of benefits, such as allowing learners to practice their skills without fear of error causing potentially life-threatening impacts.


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The Virtual Reality tools still provide the hands-on experience required to acquire a familiarity and comfort in performing procedures, but in a safe and controlled setting. Therefore, as learners make mistakes, they can be thoroughly corrected in real-time and without risk. As Virtual Reality modules still require interaction, skills are able to become second nature before they are applied in real world scenarios.

For example, Virtual Reality in Medicine can be used paramedic training by having learners interact with simulated emergencies where they are faced with high-pressure situations. By learning to respond accordingly, they will be better equipped to handle similar occurrences once they are in the field.

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Alternatively, Virtual Reality in preventative medicine and counseling can teach learners how to assess patient conditions and to provide insightful feedback and tips. By learning how to best interact with and educate patients on healthy practices through simulated experiences, trainees can better determine how to assist their patients in making lifestyle changes.


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These changes can include actions such as stopping smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, eating healthier foods, pursuing daily exercise, etc. Ultimately, being able to appropriately counsel patients, and potentially integrate VR tools into a treatment plan, can help emphasize positive changes. Virtual Reality itself can effectively deliver alcohol, nicotine, and other cues to induce craving that can subsequently be studied throughout medical research. VR can also help reduce patient risk of illness or disease by promoting changed behavior.

Another way that Virtual Reality in Medicine can assist learners is by teaching them how to be empathetic. Across the field of healthcare, empathy is demanded in situations where providers must deliver bad news, or when they are dealing with a particularly sensitive or disabled patient. Practicing these conversations and internalizing possible responses and reactions will help prepare learners for these very real interactions across their intended practice.

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Overall, the integration of Virtual Reality in Medicine has completely transformed the way healthcare is taught across colleges, universities, technical schools and medical facilities. This method of learning is much more advanced and effective compared to the traditional classroom experience consisting primarily of textbook instruction.

Virtual Reality in Education

At the university level, the faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine have begun using Virtual Reality for training within the school’s Neurosurgical Simulation and Virtual Reality Center in 2016. Within the center, There, a platform called Surgical Theater fuses several types of brain scans from an actual patients so that learners can achieve greater specificity and verisimilitude. To create the 3-D images of a patient’s anatomy, scientists fuse two-dimensional images from MRI and CT scans using advanced computer programs.

Also within Stanford’s Neurosurgical Simulation and Virtual Reality Center’s Surgical Theater, learners can use VR goggles to manipulate and view an organ from multiple perspectives. With the VR headsets, learners and trainees can then “fly” through the brain on screen – getting a close-up look at the brain tissue and vessels, all without opening up the skull, according to the university.

After the VR experience, learners are then instructed to the school’s neurosurgical anatomy lab, where they can then see and touch the same anatomical structures in a 360-degree cadaver. The virtual reality warmup prepares students for dissection and is designed to enhance learning.

Helping to lead the way toward the complete integration of Virtual Reality in medical training, Stanford additionally employs 3-D printing to better understand patients’ spine injuries, tumors, deformities, cerebrovascular disorders, aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations. Using 3-D models helps trainees to identify features and abnormalities that they may not otherwise see when using a 2-D image on a screen. This is all with the intended purpose of better preparing learners for real surgeries. The Virtual Reality Research Center’s ultimate goal is to improve surgical techniques and outcomes through mastery of surgical neuroanatomy, enhancing understanding of endoscopic skull base anatomy, microsurgical neuroanatomy, white matter dissection and imaging.

Examples of Virtual Reality in Medical Use

Then on the market and available for purchase by schools and healthcare systems, like Stanford, pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has developed Virtual Reality hardware and software that translates conventional medical images into 3-D.

The tool comes in two different versions. The first is a fully immersive experience, in which users see only a computer-generated environment. Then, the second is a mixed reality experience, in which 3-D images are projected onto the physical world.

Also with the goal of Improving patient outcomes, increasing the adoption of higher-value medical technologies and democratizing global access to the latest surgical techniques, the company Osso VR provides a platform, content and tools to bridge the surgical training gap. The platform also comes with a support program, and advanced performance analytics with a user-specific dashboards. This allows for objective assessment and review of technical skill data to give proficiency insight and maximize patient outcomes.

Additionally, Fundamental Surgery, provided by FundamentalVR, offers a software platform that takes advantage of readily available virtual reality software combined with cutting edge haptics (the sense of touch). This creates a simulation system that can be used on any modern PC setup, even a laptop. The result is a learning tool that requires a low hardware investment and a simple ongoing licence fee.

Health Scholars is another Virtual Reality in Medicine company founded by healthcare professionals in Denver, Co. who recognized the need to advance immersive education and clinical training effectiveness. The company established the Health Scholars One™ Blended Learning Platform that delivers advanced learning technologies, methodologies and the best mix of modern and engaging content. Health Scholars platform encompasses both ACLS Virtual Reality and Fire in the OR.

The ACLS Virtual Reality tool leverages state-of-the-art voice recognition and motion capture technologies to deliver an immersive experience. Learners play the role of the team lead running the mega code and are provided the core ACLS rhythms across stable, unstable and cardiac-arrest scenarios. They identify rhythms in the context of the patient’s stability and direct virtual team members to shock, give meds, and/or perform CPR as necessary.

Fire in the OR then delivers simulation and offers learners the ability to identify fire risks, safely practice key skills to manage a surgical fire, debrief on actions and understand the causes of operating room fires. The tool comes with a tutorial, the ability to learn how to use VR and navigate the simulation, a fire triad module, and the ability to manage a fire and be debriefed.

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