Medtech: studying anatomy in digital reality

Put on your headset

Imagine that you are in a classroom with a small group of students and a professor, who invites you to put on your headset. On the table, previously empty, a body appears. No, not a real one: the body is a 3D model that the teacher has prepared for this class. The professor gives a lecture on the model by isolating and highlighting elements such as organs and vessels and then let you explore by yourself the model. Look at a muscle, for example, and a window on which you find its name, the movements in which it is involved, its vascularization and innervation will pop. You don’t remember the path of the tibial nerve? Look at it, highlight it and walk around the model to better appreciate its path through the different parts of the body. It sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

Holohuman app by 3D4Medical and Pearson

Traditionally, we learn anatomy through cadavers, models and textbooks. But the difficulty in realizing dimensionality from a 2D image or drawing, the overall decrease in the time allocated to learning anatomy and the difficulty in finding cadavers has pushed some universities to teach anatomy in virtual (VR) or augmented (AR) reality.

Through a headset, a kind of glasses-screen, and using an application, you can see a 3D model projected in a completely virtual environment (VR) or the real environment with virtual additions (AR). You can control the 3D model with your eyes and a few gestures: once you have mastered them, you can move the model in all directions, make a cut in any axes, isolate elements such as organs or bones, simulate the movements of a muscle and much more! In short, the same things you can already do with your “classic” 3D anatomy app that you have on your computer or tablet, but in a much more immersive way!

We can reasonably ask ourselves whether digital reality (DR) for learning anatomy is not a gadget and whether it is effective for learning. Several studies suggest that learning anatomy through virtual reality is as effective as or better than cadavers and textbooks based teaching. Despite a minority of users experiencing dizziness, students overall enjoy learning anatomy through DR and feel more motivated, attentive, and confident than in traditional ways.

With a high level of student satisfaction and good academic performance, we can ask ourselves whether this means of learning should not complement traditional means of teaching. To date, although the technology exists, few universities are using it. But tomorrow, it could be one more way to learn anatomy!

This story was written by Cédric Follonier and initially published in the 15th edition of the Swiss Medical Students’ National Journal. Read the full issue here.

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Swiss Medical Students’ Association

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swimsa aims to connect Swiss medical students in a national and global network and making them feel empowered to advocate for quality education and healthcare.

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