Virtual Reality for Medical Education, Training & Upskilling
It is no news that Virtual Reality (VR) continues to accelerate in growth and Healthcare implementation worldwide, driven by the challenges of the ongoing pandemic, global digitalization, medical technology, and equipment advancement. Virtual Reality has gone a long way since its first implementation in Healthcare. As it is becoming more known and widespread amongst the medical community and industry professionals, the worldwide VR education market continues its rapid growth, expected to reach USD 32.94 billion in 2026. It is becoming more apparent that using VR with its current capabilities can deliver many benefits for the Healthcare sector in general, especially in terms of medical education, training, and upskilling.
On the one hand, VR technology already seems pretty straightforward to many; on the other hand, a handful of questions still arise regularly. Today we would like to cover some of the most frequent ones our Healthcare clients inquire about in the pre-stages of the project development when it comes to VR for medical education, training, and upskilling. We will cover a range of questions starting from benefits and ways to use VR, particularly in Healthcare, actual use cases and implementations, and finishing with how to measure VR effectiveness, talking about future potential in Healthcare as a whole.
BENEFITS OF USING VIRTUAL REALITY IN MEDICAL TRAINING, EDUCATION, UPSKILLING & RESKILLING
As digitalization and technology continue to advance Healthcare, medical specialists must continuously obtain new knowledge and information to improve their skills. Which at the end of the day, pays off in the long run; however requires both mental and time investment. Continuous education has always been a challenge, in many cases demanding medical specialists to relocate and plan their schedules as well as requiring an extensive traveling and accommodation budget. The global pandemic has accelerated these challenges even further, as it has become exponentially more difficult for many Healthcare specialists to continue their education and training, especially when it comes to mastering new equipment, protocols, or procedures. E-learning was picked up as one of the solutions; however, it was clearly not enough for the Healthcare industry, which requires practical hands-on learning in addition to theoretical knowledge. Thus, medical institutions continued their exploration of immersive technology capabilities to find means and continue educating their specialists safely, effectively, and with maximum quality.
Immersive technology implementation, particularly VR, can potentially deliver several benefits to achieve both the need for continuous education and effective cost management. At the same time, it can benefit all Healthcare providers from medical professionals and practitioners, medical device producers, Healthcare institutions including hospitals and clinics, medical associations as well as education facilities including medical schools, colleges, and universities. It can also help avoid risks for the real patient as a digital twin of practically any scenario, patient, procedure, or environment can be 1-to-1 recreated in a virtual environment, enabling to practice a wide variety of medical skills in risk-free environments.
USING VIRTUAL REALITY FOR REMOTE LEARNING
Regardless of the time, it has always been essential for medical specialists to continue learning and training throughout the entire duration of their careers. Calling for advancing skills, exchanging knowledge, and learning new procedures and practices as new medical and digital technology is becoming available. Learning new skills while keeping up with technological advancement and practicing full-time remains among the key challenges for medical specialists worldwide.
At the same time, as we unexpectedly had to face global travel restrictions and relocation constraints on and off for some years already, this necessity has brought many Healthcare facilities and institutions to seek new possibilities and means of remote learning, education, and upskilling. In this sense, VR was an obvious choice for many as it allows users to interact and collaborate in real-time, blurring the boundaries of physical and digital presence. While we are entering the next generation of the digital age, VR is becoming more widespread as the go-to tool, primarily due to its capability of remote interaction between users regardless of their physical locations.
It is no exception for medical professionals and students, among other specialists that had to turn to technology, to make remote learning not simply possible but reshape it into an engaging, immersive, and interactive experience. With VR, the education process, in general, has gone beyond flat 2D environments and online desktop-based interactions to offering new 3D immersive, hands-on capabilities for specialists around the globe. VR is one of the tools that has helped amend how we look at remote education and learning processes. With immersive technology, specialists can now access, connect, feel present, and have hands-on practice facilitated and guided remotely. It can help reduce stress factors by aiding future specialists with obtaining the procedure or device-related knowledge and skills.
USING VIRTUAL REALITY FOR REMOTE COLLABORATION
Professional collaboration has always been one of the effective ways to learn new skills, advance education, and exchange experience and knowledge amongst the medical community. It helps prevent medical errors, find new research areas, remove peer barriers, enhance collaboration between departments, and improve patient experience and outcomes, resulting in more cost-effective medical education, training, and upskilling programs.
At a time when the need for social distance posed many questions about how in-person education, training, and upskilling processes should be conducted, medical facilities and institutions have turned to VR to collaborate once again, however, this time remotely. The main advantage of VR lies in its capability to simultaneously bring individuals from around the world into one immersive environment, where they can interact, communicate and even feel as if physically present, which is equally crucial for peer knowledge exchange. Simultaneously, it can serve as a tool for extensive interaction between medical specialists and their patients around the globe.
This capability can significantly reduce or potentially eliminate training travel-related costs, adding flexibility to the medical professional's schedules, allowing for more frequent interactions and, importantly, knowledge exchange amongst specialists. Remote collaboration can be a great tool to remain connected within the medical community while exchanging expertise, knowledge, building connections, and professional competencies. At the same time, having access to remote advisors and medical experts in real-time could soon become the next major game changer for many Healthcare professionals. It could have a life-deciding impact if we speak especially about rare or niche medical specialties with a small number of global experts.
UTILIZING VR FOR HANDS-ON IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE
Having a fair deal of hands-on clinical experience can be the defining factor in the medical specialist's competency, level of professionalism, expertise, and knowledge, which is also one of the challenges that graduating medical students face before entering the Healthcare field. VR, in this perspective, is beneficial through its immersive capabilities. Here we are referring to the possibility of hands-on practice in a virtual setup where the digital twin of any necessary medical or patient scenario, device or equipment, patient or device response can be developed for training, education, and upskilling.
We have long gone from low-quality immersive experiences. Today's VR hardware market is providing devices with human-eye resolution allowing to develop VR experiences with the next level of visual fidelity, making VR experiences more life-like, interactive, and engaging. Such capabilities provide medical specialists with the necessary level of realism and believability to immerse into the created VR training.
The immersive component of the VR experiences can provide the much-needed hands-on practice in assembling and using medical devices, re-enacting and rehearsing pre- and post-operative planning, and allowing to practice diagnostics and decision-making skills, amongst many other capabilities. The growing fidelity of VR experiences, made possible with the continuously expanding VR hardware market, now allows one-to-one digital replicas of medical equipment, operation rooms, environments, and facilities, submerging medical specialists and students into real-time life-like simulations.
Today, we already have head, body, hand, and eye-tracking built into some VR headsets used for VR experience control and navigation. Adding more advanced haptic technology to replicate the real sense of touch would be the next breakthrough in VR technology. It will allow the entire industry to push the boundaries of what we consider as immersive, making VR medical training, education, and upskilling much more involving as specialists would not only feel present but have the possibility to experience a close-to real-life tactile sensation.
LEVERAGING VR TO OPTIMIZE TRAINING TIME & COST
Time is one of the critical success factors in Healthcare that involves the broadest range of medical activities and tasks. They vary from the amount of time a medical professional requires to perform a particular life-essential procedure to how quickly they can respond or make a decision in a specific medical scenario. Including the amount of time it would take the medical professional to learn how to use new devices and equipment. As well as how quickly they can reach out to external medical specialists for advice or guidance, even the amount of time training new medical interns that just joined the frontlines of hospital work takes. That said, time is the primary factor that could be deciding in life-threatening medical situations, directly impacting the quality of patient outcomes.
In this context, VR could serve as an excellent tool that can be used to practice medical procedures to perfection. Which, thought VR can be done both time and cost-efficiently, without requiring to relocate or a high-cost setup, complex medical equipment, or the use of costly medical supplies and materials to learn, practice or reskill. VR allows medical specialists to practice time-sensitive emergency and routine procedures without putting real patients at risk while improving Healthcare personnel's confidence and patient outcomes.
Educating future specialists also comes at a high cost for medical universities, colleges, and schools. Thus they can also benefit from using VR to reduce the cost and time associated with training future medical specialists. It allows medical students to practice and hands-on learn procedures without relocating to Operation Rooms (ORs), hospitals, research institutions, or laboratories. VR enables medical students to learn from mistakes at no cost to real patients' well-being or other expenses. It makes it possible to attempt as many tries as necessary to understand and hone the medical skill or procedure, growing their professional confidence. VR could ultimately help expand the knowledge base for medical students, giving them in-VR access to expensive equipment like CAT Scanners, MRIs, and 3D Mammography machines while being guided in real-time. Let's not forget that VR headsets have already become relatively affordable. The oversaturated market is booming with all sorts of options, making the cost associated with the hardware part of VR development much more reasonable.
WAYS TO USE VIRTUAL REALITY FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION, TRAINING & UPSKILLING
There are countless ways VR can be used for medical education, training, and upskilling. In this section, we will cover a couple of them, from potential VR implementation into a broad scope of medical education, training, and upskilling directions starting from high-risk medical training and large-scale medical device training, to surgical training, trauma center, and emergency room simulations.
VR FOR HIGH-RISK MEDICAL TRAINING
When it comes to high-risk procedures, VR can be the tool to help specialists learn or upskill in a risk-free environment. In VR, medical specialists can submerge into a variety of training scenarios. In these scenarios, they can practice their decision-making, react to rapid condition changes, and hands-on practice various skills from intubation to surgical procedures. Unlike standard manikins and PC-based simulators, VR helps specialists build a sense of accomplishment stimulated by the visual simulation that blurs the tactile barrier. Thus specialists can practice high-risk medical procedures in a controlled, patient-safe environment, maintaining and growing their skill levels.
VR FOR LARGE-SCALE MEDICAL DEVICES TRAINING
Large-scale medical equipment which is difficult to relocate or set-up within limited physical space could benefit greatly from VR. The advancement in technological skills allows to now build VR simulations for equipment of any scale and complexity, replicating its functionality in full. It is possible to recreate complete medical devices, facilities, and environments in Virtual Reality. Which helps eliminate specialist traveling or device transportation-related costs while allowing hands-on training and upskill with equipment of any scale, from any location in the world.
VR FOR TRAUMA & EMERGENCY ROOM SIMULATION
When dealing with emergency cases, medical professionals and their teams must be mentally prepared for the stressful, hectic, overcrowded, high-pressure environment with any possible case scenario. While it is not possible to be fully prepared, VR could give a possibility to immerse and prepare specialists mentally for the level of stress and psychological pressure they will face. It can also help immersively train through a wide range of emergency and trauma scenarios by re-enacting them in a virtual environment that includes real-time patient and team responses. VR allows for scenarios where specialists can train their skills in rapid condition assessment and decision making, immediate physical injuries management, preparations for possible resuscitation, and definitive care or even prompt life and death decisions. VR can also be used for medical students. It allows them to train their assessment, response, resuscitation, and teamwork skills without being in the frontline where every second counts, but rather in a patient risk-free virtual environment. In VR, they can be supervised and guided by actively practicing specialists, helping them prepare both mentally and knowledge-wise for specific trauma and ER cases and scenarios.
VR FOR SURGICAL TRAINING
Bringing VR to surgery is exponentially reshaping how medical specialists are planning, practicing, visualizing and communicating with patients. It can help surgeons re-enact all steps of the surgery and play out different possible scenarios in an immersive 3D environment with, if necessary combined MRI, CT scans, and X-ray-based digital twins of the actual patient. Where they are not simply practicing on a generic simulator but interacting with real-life replicas of the patient and their medical condition. In the past, surgeons had to mainly envision and go through the procedure steps in their minds. Today they can visualize and walk through the actual surgery with the help of a VR headset and use its capabilities to illustrate the steps to the actual patient, educating and boosting their reassurance. VR in the preoperative stage can help not only visualize and plan for the surgery but practice scenarios and different predetermined plans, as well as illustrate the possible outcome of these steps to the patient. VR in the post-operative stage can help visualize the result of the surgery, identify necessary steps for recovery and demonstrate the actual surgery outcome to the patient, adding trust and transparency to the process and the results. As it is possible to record, store and gather analytics of the VR training, it can be used as an excellent tool to share data with medical specialists, peers, and students. It can also be potentially added to the patient's medical record of the future.
VR FOR DEVELOPING EMPATHY
Empathy is considered one of the crucial factors that could influence patient care and outcome, even though we still have little research on the extent of its impact. From the medical specialist's perspective, empathy could play an essential role in gaining a holistic understanding of the patient condition, ensuring patient cooperation, and initiating better interaction and connection while helping patients communicate with and trust the medical specialist. While empathy is not connected solely to specialists that work directly with the patients, it can be trained in hospital staff to ensure better understanding and interactions with all patient profiles, including elderly, children, and special care patients. VR is one of those tools that can help medical specialists grow their ability to recognize emotions, share perspectives and understand some conditions, thus increasing their level of empathy. Which is especially important when we speak of chronic conditions that progress over time or conditions not visible to the naked eye. Recreating symptoms in VR allows medical specialists and Healthcare staff to first-hand experience the everyday challenges and struggles that otherwise could be unnoticed, misunderstood, or overlooked. It is also possible to recreate a whole set of conditions, including visual distortions, amplified senses, triggers, and emphasis on different surroundings that patients may experience with various mental and psychological conditions. Medical specialists can then relive them in VR instead of simply relying on the patient's interpretation or their own sense of understanding. This could also serve as an excellent learning tool for both medical professionals and future medical specialists, allowing them to first-hand experience the level of discomfort and possible associated stress, thus developing their levels of empathy and growing personally and professionally.
VR FOR INTERACTIVE LEARNING OF HUMAN ANATOMY
While we are still living in the era of predominantly 2D visuals and educational materials, more and more medical schools, universities, and colleges are beginning to turn to 3D to understand and better grasp anatomy. Primarily due to its capability to volumetrically and dynamically visualize and demonstrate every part of the human body. VR, which is built using 3D visualizations, surroundings, and environments, allows medical students to be taken to an entirely new level in the learning process. Constructing digital twins, 1-to-1 replicas of actual patients, organs, and systems in VR can help medical students understand the disease, learn diagnostics and decision making in various medical conditions and scenarios. While hands-on interacting with visualizations of different anatomical regions, planes, and human body systems in general, cross-section, and exploded view and enabling complete rotations, both zooming-in and -out. Additionally, VR multiplayer allows to submerge entire groups of medical students into the immersive learning experience, in class or remotely, using VR headsets. At the same time, medical students can be guided by medical specialists and instructors in the virtual replicas of real-life settings like ERs and trauma centers, operating rooms, MRIs, or even PET scan facilities. Within the VR training simulations, medical students can interact and develop a better understanding of the human anatomy, most importantly, without posing a threat to any actual patient and serving as an alternative to cadavers.
VIRTUAL REALITY IN MEDICAL EDUCATION: USE CASES & IMPLEMENTATION
With all being said, VR has already become the next-generation go-to tool for training, education, and upskilling for many medical specialists worldwide. Let's now look at some of the already existing projects where VR serves to benefit medical specialists and practitioners, advancing their knowledge and helping accelerate their skills.
MEDICAL VR INTUBATION SIMULATION
Medtronic McGRATH™ MAC VR Intubation Simulation is an interactive and immersive VR intubation simulation experience created with Medtronic to demonstrate the product and to train practitioners and medical students. It presents the usage of the McGRATH™ MAC video laryngoscope as a standard of care by educating participants on how to perform an intubation procedure with a variety of patients and the complexity of intubation scenarios. Find out more.
MEDICAL VR TRAINING FOR NURSES
Medical VR training for nurses is an immersive and interactive VR Simulator experience to train nurses on how to set up and use HysteroLux™ Fluid Management System, a new generation of highly efficient equipment for hysteroscopy procedures that enhances safety and offers procedural flexibility. The idea was to focus on experiential learning, reduce the complexity of the equipment set-up process, develop practical skills and build confidence to use HysteroLux™ during an actual surgical procedure. Find out more.
FEELING ADHD VR SIMULATION
The created VR Simulation enables users to experience how a child with ADHD perceives the world from the first-party perspective. The immersive solution allowed to capture and simulate the experiences, emotions, and reactions of a third-grade male student diagnosed with ADHD. The immersive ADHD VR Simulation was developed for US National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). Find out more.
MEASURING VR EFFICACY AND FUTURE POTENTIAL
While businesses continue to innovate and integrate the latest technology, they often face the question of how efficient this investment will be, what could the potential ROI be, and how to calculate it when it comes to immersive technology. Speaking from training, education, and upskilling perspectives it is essential to understand what the medical institution, company, or facility wishing to integrate immersive technology is trying to achieve. At the same time, it is also important to think beyond the current implementation and assess the potential future of the VR experience, its possible expansion, and integration in Healthcare, thinking beyond medical education, training, and upskilling.
MEASURING ROI FOR VR MEDICAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING
While VR allows to reduce required training time, training and relocation associated costs, cost of materials, onboarding time, production time, and many more factors, in the long run, calculating the immediate ROI of the immersive experience might not seem that straightforward at first. Like with any other tool, we must evaluate the net income or gain from the investment versus the cost of this investment. Whereas the cost of investment can be calculated by the developers, the gain from the investment should be defined, set and measured prior to launching the development process.
To bring in more clarity, let's look at the potential metrics that can be predefined to measure the investment gain. As already mentioned, they vary depending on the purpose of the VR experience. However, they can include metrics associated with different in-VR learning tasks like time taken to assemble medical equipment or practice a procedure. Or even the potential real cost of medical material or equipment required for real-life training, as well as the cost of relocation and accommodation associated with training, idle time and many more.
"VR integration into the healthcare training cycle is a major step towards technological advancement. While the potential ROI can vary depending on the medical specialty and project specifications, we've already seen quite some research on VR implementation in medical education, training, and upskilling. For example, VR simulation education has shown to reduce required education time by 22% and associated cost by 40% compared to traditional high-fidelity simulation in nursing education. Or when virtual reality teaching compared to traditional teaching has shown the potential to improve neurosurgical skull base teaching quality, based on two groups of clinical undergraduates' theoretical knowledge assessment. Even though we all would like to see an ultimate tool that can simply and precisely calculate the return on investment, there is really no one-size-fits-all approach. However, what can make the assessment as close to the real figures as possible, is starting the project development with the discovery phase. This approach helps minimize risks and optimize costs, as well as plan the project in a way that success is predictable, especially when it comes to ROI."
At the end of the day, understanding the actual goal and fundamental purpose of the VR training prior to developing the tool can be exponentially more beneficial and, importantly, measurable in terms of ROI.
FUTURE USES OF VR IN THE HEALTHCARE SECTOR
Nevertheless, when we think about the future of Virtual Reality in Healthcare, we can expect a much more vast integration of immersive technology not only into medical education, training, and upskilling but into everyday medical activities like diagnostics, communication, and collaboration.
As we continue moving towards the next iteration of the internet, the Web 3.0 or otherwise referred to as the Metaverse, we can imagine none-emergency interactions, diagnostics, regular visits, and even guided rehabilitation and intervention happening in real-time. In a virtual setting that medical specialists and patients can access remotely without being physically present.
With the advancement of VR hardware to match human-eye resolution, increase in processing powers and adaptation of lighter formfactor by the VR headset producers, as well as next generation haptics that can break the tactile barrier of current immersive technology, more Healthcare institutions would be opting in for VR to increase efficiency, optimize costs as well as reduce time required to help individual patients.
As the pandemic-caused uncertainty has left a long-lasting impact on the global Healthcare systems, still remaining as one of the issues that requires to be accounted for, it is essential to find ways to continue innovating and moving forward for the medical sector and Healthcare in general. Looking ahead, Virtual Reality is bound to become more widely used in medical institutions, with the potential of being vastly incorporated into the medical student's university training. As the integration of immersive technology is already at full speed, we are bound to see more Healthcare and education VR-entwined breakthroughs in the near future.
To summarize, as VR technology continues to evolve, we will see much broader implementations in Healthcare and more advanced immersive solutions, incorporating the next level of visual fidelity and realism, implemented globally.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality (VR) is an artificially created 3D interactive environment that simulates a user's physical presence in a realistic or enchased digital world. VR allows users to connect, interact, collaborate and feel present in high-fidelity environments in real time through VR device technology.
What is VR Medical Training?
VR medical training is a high-fidelity immersive, hands-on virtual simulation developed for Healthcare providers, medical professionals, practitioners, medical device producers, healthcare institutions, and medicals association to improve personnel capabilities. They allow to hone and practice skills, learn using new and existing devices and equipment, and practice and prepare for procedures, including pre-and post-operative stages, in a safe and cost-effective setting.
What Can VR Offer?
VR can offer a safe and immersive digital twin of a real-life environment for medical specialists to hands-on practice their skills, gain new knowledge, improving their confidence, competency, and patient outcomes. It can enhance traditional learning and education settings with advanced technological capabilities, visualizations, and interactive digital overlays.
Article Last Edited 13 October 2022.