How VR/AR Is Training the Doctors of the Future
Technological innovation and teaching go hand in hand, and medical training isn’t an exception. These days, one of the hottest new tech trends is virtual or augmented reality (VR or AR). It shouldn’t be any surprise that there are a variety of ways that VR and AR are influencing the way doctors of the future are getting trained. Here are three ways that doctors are getting trained with VR and AR.
Traditional medical schools aren’t going anywhere: instead, VR and AR is coming to them. More and more medical schools are incorporating VR experiences into their curriculums. For example, at the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA, students can take virtual tours of the body at the J and K Virtual Reality Center. This school was the first in the nation where aspiring medical professionals could learn their medical curriculum via VR technologies, paving the way for other schools to do the same.
The University of Nebraska has also begun construction on its $118.9 million Davis Global Center. The Center will offer students clinical training exercises and surgical skills training in “realistic simulated” environments with the use of VR, AR and holographic technologies.
And at UC San Francisco students can use AR to examine the human body via headset, without having to use any cadavers. Anatomy is all about the human form, so it’s difficult to teach in two dimensions. AR opens up a new world of opportunity, free of the restrictions of medical textbooks, for med students to interact with and learn about the human body in a true 3D format.
What if there isn’t a medical school near you at all? VR and AR offer the potential for remote instruction. VR and AR are paving the way for access to important medical instruction beyond borders. In as few as five years, Dr. Shafi Ahmed, a pioneer in virtual reality medical innovation sees the industry shifting from live-capture VR to full computer-rendered simulations of surgical operations. Eventually, there will even be reactive virtual patients and gloves to provide tactile feedback. "In my vision, you'll have a virtual body in front of you, you get haptic gloves, you pick up a scalpel, and you feel it normally, you make a cut, you see the incision, it's all realistic," he says in an interview with Wired. "Ultimately, people will be able to use VR to carry out operations and train themselves through virtual operations. That'd be our endgame." He’s already taken some of the first steps himself, broadcasting the first virtual reality surgical livestream. These livestreams can enhance the educational experiences for future surgeons.
It’s not just surgeons and MDs in training that can find a use for VR or AR. Dentists are also hopping onto the VR/AR bandwagon. From realistic virtual training, to pain management for patients, the use for the technology in this field is staggering.
Surgery demands perfection, and perfection requires practice. These days, surgeons have the technology to run through complicated procedures before performing them on a patient, helping them learn the ins and outs of that particular surgery. This adds to the surgeon’s experience, makes the process safer for patients, and can be used as teaching tools for surgeons in training.
Virtual simulations are only expected to get more elaborate. For example, some developers plan to incorporate tactile aspects into their virtual reality. With this extra layer of realism, surgeons in training can actually physically feel what it’s like to perform procedures, rather than just going through the motions.
Eventually, the developers hope to use augmential or virtual reality to simulate unusual but critical medical experiences. For example, many doctor’s first experience with severe trauma will be on the job. Using an immersive simulation allows doctors in training to experience that high-pressure scenario without anyone’s life on the line. This exposure to trauma gives future docs a head start in learning to control their adrenaline and emotions while making rapid decisions in critical situations — before they have to do it for real.
Collaboration between professionals is as old as the medical profession. Doctors have always exchanged knowledge and information with each other. And with VR or AR, this isn’t limited by borders. As long as there’s access to VR or AR technology, the opportunities and possibilities for collaboration and cooperation are endless.
In October 2017, doctors from three different countries used a combination of virtual and augmented reality to perform a laparoscopic surgical procedure on a cancer patient together. Thanks to AR, the experts were not only able to feel like they were in the operating room together, but could also access patient records and 3D scans digitally,allowing the surgeons to trade information and insights naturally in real-time. In the future, it’s easy to see how this technology might enable surgeons to educate each other.
Imagine you need a specialist for a surgery, but that surgeon is on the other side of the globe. Virtual reality can help bridge that divide. VR technology can enable one surgeon to assist another virtually. A small camera and a low grade energy field around the patient would allow the specialist to “see” the patient in three dimensions, and offer guidance and knowledge to the operating surgeon. This reduces costs and improves efficiency of surgical care.
These are just three different categories where doctors can be trained using VR and AR technology. There are certainly many more possibilities for how this technology can be used to help teach the doctors and medical professionals of the future. As the field develops, VR and AR will surely be used in ways we might have only dreamed of. Whatever the future holds for VR and AR in the medical field, it will certainly be exciting.