The Potential of Virtual Reality in Medical Education and Training

This blog post was written by Bryan Chew Jun Wei, a student at Leicester Medical School, who is a member of the student group MedRIFT — Medical Research into Future Technologies.


Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA International 4.0

The use of Virtual Reality (VR) in industries apart from gaming has increased exponentially which can be attributed to the development of head mounted displays (HMD) such as Oculus Rift, Gear VR and Google Cardboard. Some of these are user-friendly and affordable (Google Cardboard: ₤3); with the only catch being the requirement of a smart phone as well. We are all familiar with the recent hype about 360° pictures and videos on Youtube, Facebook and other social media platforms. However, we also need to realise its enormous potential in the field of medicine.

Think for a moment how the different organs, vessels and nerves are orientated in the abdominal and pelvic cavity. It can be quite confusing and difficult to orientate ourselves around the positions of all these important structures. Now imagine it in a VR environment; being able to manipulate and move these structures around to fully understand their position and anatomical relations to one another. How about case studies? We have been given lectures after lectures on the symptoms and signs to look out for and the investigations and managements that follow. However, put us in a real-life scenario with the patient’s life in our hands and suddenly it becomes so different and not to mention intimidating. Hence the need for a virtual reality environment to better prepare ourselves both mentally and physically by immersing ourselves in a particular case scenario.
The use of VR in medical education and training has long been researched with evidence of its benefits emerging. A randomised controlled trial compared medical students who were randomly allocated to receive an audio lecture accompanied by a 2D Powerpoint presentation or a 3D animated tour of the third ventricle via a VR simulation. This study found that those who received the 3D lecture scored better in a multiple-choice exam based on the content learned compared to the 2D group (Kockro et al. 2015). In surgery, training with a VR simulator prior to performing a procedure showed better proficiency in actual surgery compared to those that did not undergo the training. For example, a study showed that orthopaedic residents who trained under a virtual reality arthroscopic knee simulator had a better skill level than the control group (Cannon et al. 2014). Surgical trainees who underwent a VR curriculum on a robotic surgical simulator also showed faster and more effective technique in conducting robotic cardiac surgery (Valdis et al. 2015). Indeed, VR simulation is undeniably a safer and more effective way for surgical trainees to become familiar with the techniques and equipment required in a surgical procedure before performing them on a real patient. This will not only benefit the practitioner by increasing their proficiency, but will also improve the patient’s outcome.
In conclusion, the benefits of using VR in medical education and training should be looked into to implement such technology in future medical curriculums. However, the limitations of the use of VR simulation such as costs and accessibility should be acknowledged and it should supplement and not replace essential real-world training on patients.
Cannon, W.D., Garrett, W.E.,Jr, Hunter, R.E., Sweeney, H.J., Eckhoff, D.G., Nicandri, G.T., Hutchinson, M.R., Johnson, D.D., Bisson, L.J., Bedi, A., Hill, J.A., Koh, J.L. & Reinig, K.D. 2014, “Improving residency training in arthroscopic knee surgery with use of a virtual-reality simulator. A randomized blinded study”, The Journal of bone and joint surgery.American volume, vol. 96, no. 21, pp. 1798-1806.
Kockro, R.A., Amaxopoulou, C., Killeen, T., Wagner, W., Reisch, R., Schwandt, E., Gutenberg, A., Giese, A., Stofft, E. & Stadie, A.T. 2015, “Stereoscopic neuroanatomy lectures using a three-dimensional virtual reality environment”, Annals of Anatomy = Anatomischer Anzeiger : Official Organ of the Anatomische Gesellschaft, vol. 201, pp. 91-98.
Valdis, M., Chu, M.W., Schlachta, C.M. & Kiaii, B. 2015, “Validation of a Novel Virtual Reality Training Curriculum for Robotic Cardiac Surgery: A Randomized Trial”, Innovations (Philadelphia, Pa.), vol. 10, no. 6, pp. 383-388.

Bryan Chew Jun Wei, Leicester Medical School, University of Leicester


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