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26 Jul 2022

Leveraging VR 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 still ongoing pandemic, global digitalization and advancement of medical technology and equipment. Virtual Reality has gone a long way since its first implementation into Healthcare. As it is becoming more known and widespread amongst the medical community and professionals of the industry, the VR education market worldwide continues its rapid growth and is already expected to reach $32.94 billion USD in 2026. It is becoming more obvious that VR with its current capabilities can already be used to deliver a great number of benefits for the Healthcare sector in general and particularly when it comes to education, training and upskilling.

On one hand, VR technology already seems pretty straightforward to many, on the other hand there are still a handful of questions that 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. Today we will be covering a range of questions starting from benefits and ways to use VR particularly in Healthcare, talk about real use cases and implementations, finishing with how to measure VR effectiveness and cover its future potential in Healthcare as a whole. 

BENEFITS OF USING VR IN MEDICAL TRAININGS, EDUCATION, UPSKILLING & RESKILLING

As digitalization and technology continues to advance Healthcare, medical specialists must continuously  obtain new knowledge and information in order to improve their skills. Which at the end of the day pays off in the long-run, however requires both mental and time investment. While continuous education has always been a challenge, in many cases demanding medical specialists to relocate and plan their schedules as well as an extensive traveling and accommodation budget. The global pandemic has accelerated this challenge 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.

Which takes us to VR implementation, that has the potential to deliver a number of benefits to achieve both the need for continuous education as well as effective cost management. At the same time benefiting 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, advancing skills, exchanging knowledge, learning new procedures and practices as new, both medical and digital technology, is becoming available. Learning new skills while keeping up with technological advancement and practicing full-time remains amongst 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 a number of 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 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, amongst other specialists that had to turn to technology, to make remote learning not just possible, but an engaging, immersive and interactive experience. With VR, learning 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 reshape 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 the stress factor, 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, exchange experience and knowledge amongst the medical community. It helps prevent medical errors, find new research areas, remove peer barriers, enhance collaboration between departments, improve patient experience and outcomes, resulting in more cost effective medical education, training and upskilling programs. 

At the time when the need for social distance posed many questions of how in person education, training and upskilling processes should be conducted, medical facilities and institutions have turned to VR in order to be able to collaborate once again, this time however, 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 important for peer knowledge exchange, at the same time it can serve as a tool for vast interaction between medical specialists and their patients from around the globe. 

This capability can significantly reduce, or potentially eliminate training travel-related costs, adding flexibility to the medical professionals schedules, allowing for more frequent interactions and importantly, knowledge exchange amongst specialists. Remote collaboration can serve as 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 experts located around the globe.

Utilizing VR for hands-on immersive experience

Having a fair deal of hands-on clinical experience can be the defining factor in the medical specialists 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 set up, where the digital twin, 1-to-1 recreation, of any necessary medical or patient scenario, device or equipment, patient or device response with maximum realism, thus level of immersion, 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 next levels 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, reenacting and rehearsing pre- and post- operative planning, practicing diagnostics and decision making skills amongst many other capabilities. With the growing fidelity of VR experiences, possible with the continuously expanding VR hardware market, one-to-one digital replicas of medical equipment, operation rooms, environments and facilities are now possible, submerging medical specialists and students into real-time life-like simulations.   

While we already have head-, body-, hand- and eye-tracking built into some of the VR headsets, making it possible to control and navigate the VR experiences, 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 actually have the possibility to experience a close to real-life tactile sensation. 

Leveraging VR to optimize training time and cost

Time is one of the critical success factors in Healthcare that involves the widest range of medical activities and tasks. From the amount of time a medical professional requires to perform a particular life-essential procedure, how quickly they can respond or make a decision, the amount of time it would take them to learn using new devices and equipment, to how quickly they can reach out to external medical specialists for advice or guidance and even the amount of time training new medical freshmen that just joined the frontlines of hospital work takes. With that being said, time is the major factor that could be deciding in life-threatening medical situations, impacting the quality of patient outcomes.

In this context, VR could serve as an excellent tool that can be used to practice medical procedures till perfection in a both time and cost efficient manner, without having to relocate or require a high-cost set up, complex medical equipment or use of costly medical supplies and materials to learn, practice or reskill. VR allows medical specialists to also practice time sensitive emergency and routine procedures without putting the 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 of future medical specialists. It allows medical students to practice and hands-on learn procedures without having to relocate to Operation Rooms (ORs), hospitals, research institutions or laboratories. VR allows medical students to learn from mistakes, at no cost to real patients' wellbeing or other expenses, making it possible to attempt as many tries as necessary to understand and hone the medical skill or procedure, growing their professional confidence. This could ultimately help expand the knowledge base for medical students, giving them in-VR access to expensive equipment like CAT Scanners, MRIs, 3D Mammography machines while being guided in real-time. Let’s not forget that VR headsets now have become fairly affordable, with the oversaturated market 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 could be used for medical education, training and upskilling. In this section we will cover a couple of them, talking about the potential VR implementation into a wide scope of medical education, training and upskilling directions starting from high-risk medical training and large scale medical device training, to surgical training as well as 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 be submerged into a variety of training scenarios where they can practice their decision making, react to rapid condition changes, have hands-on practice of a variety of skills from intubation to performing 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. The complete devices, facilities and environments can be recreated in Virtual Reality. This helps eliminate specialist traveling or device transportation related costs, while giving the opportunity to hands-on train and upskill with the 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 serve to 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 to create training 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 require prompt life and death deciding actions. VR can also be used for medical students to train their assessment, response, resuscitation and teamwork skills without being on the frontlines where every second counts, but rather in a patient risk-free virtual environment where 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, X-ray-based digital twins of the real patient. Not simply practicing on a generic simulator, but interacting with real-life replicas of the patient and their medical condition. While in the past surgeons had to mostly envision and go through the steps of the procedure in their minds, today they can visualize and walk through the actual surgery with the help of a VR headset, as well as use its capabilities to illustrate the steps to the real 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 postoperative 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 result. As it is possible to record, store and gather analytics of the VR training, it can serve as an excellent tool to share with medical specialists, peers and students and can potentially be added to the patient's medical record of the future. 

VR for developing Empathy

Empathy is considered as one of the important factors that could influence patient care and outcome, even though we still have little research on the extent of its impact. From the medical specialists perspective empathy could play an essential role in gaining holistic understanding of the patient condition, ensuring cooperation of the patient, initiating better interaction and connection while helping patients communicate with and trust the medical specialist. As empathy is not limited only to specialists that work directly with the patients, it can be used to train 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 understanding of some conditions, thus growing their level of empathy. This 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 different 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 serve also 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 in order to better grasp and understand the anatomy. Primarily as it allows 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 a completely new level in the learning process. Constructing digital twins, 1-to-1 replicas of real patients, organs and systems in VR can help medical students understand disease, learn diagnostics and decision making in a variety of medical conditions and scenarios. While hands-on interacting with visualizations of different anatomical regions, planes, human body systems in both the general, cross-section and exploded view as well as enabling full 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. While being guided by medical specialists and instructors in the virtual replicas of real-life settings like ERs and trauma centers, operating rooms, MRI or even PET scan facilities. Within the VR training simulations medical students can interact and develop better understanding of the human anatomy, most importantly, without posing a threat to any real patient as well as 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 standard of care by educating participants on how to perform an intubation procedure with a variety of patients and 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 which 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 experiences, emotions and reactions of a third-grade male student who is diagnosed with ADHD. The immersive ADHD VR Simulation was developed for US National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). Find out more. 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 experiences, emotions and reactions of a third-grade male student who is 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 a 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 important 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 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 can include metrics associated with different in-VR learning tasks - time taken to assemble medical equipment or practice a procedure, potential real cost of medical material or equipment required for real-life training, cost of relocation and accommodation associated with the training, cost of idle time and many more. 

At the end of the day, understanding the actual goal and real 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 and without having to be 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 in 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 wider implementations into Healthcare and more advanced immersive solutions, incorporating next level of visual fidelity and realism, implemented globally.

Authors: Alex Dzyuba, Lucid Reality Labs Founder & CEO | Anna Rohi, Lucid Reality Labs Senior Marketing & Communications Manager

Article Last Edited 26 July 2022.