4 Ways VR Will Transform Healthcare Training and Simulation

Arch Virtual demo at the Serious Games and Virtual Environments Arcade and Showcase — IMSH 2018

I spent the past few days surrounded by dummies — technically ‘simulation mannequins,’ but they were everywhere at the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH 2018).

This was my first time attending, but our subject matter expert and client, Dr. Eric Bauman, led the way, and I had a blast. There was palpable momentum for VR simulation. I was told only a small sampling of experiences were shown at last year’s conference, but it was almost everywhere you look this year — I think I counted 15 different booths exhibiting VR or AR of some kind.

There were companies focused on decision making when diagnosing a patient. Others allowing you to manipulate surgical instruments via Oculus Rift and Touch controllers. Some are developing libraries of specific learning scenarios, or ‘cases’ to train students on common procedures.

Some were high quality, others weren’t. I was surprised by how many exhibitors were showing projects that consistently made attendees motion sick — something that can be completely eliminated by following a few basic best practices for VR development. This was particular concern to me, since a bad VR experience can turn someone off to the technology indefinitely, yet can be entirely avoided by following basic development standards.

Multi-player medical simulation developed for Envision EMI

Arch Virtual had two of our VR medical simulation projects accepted into the Serious Games and Virtual Environments Arcade and Showcase — both custom developed around the specific needs of our clients. One was a multi-player medical experience app we built for Envision, along with the VR Airway Lab project for which Dr. Bauman was the client.

We were honored to win Best in Show for the VR Airway Lab. Dr. Bauman also won SGVE SIG Leadership Award in recognition of his outstanding leadership and contributions to serious games and virtual environments in learning.

Captain Spooner trying out our VR demos

During the course of this experience, I’ve been returning time after time to these evolving ‘top 4’ reasons I think VR is poised to transform healthcare and medical simulation. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.) Immersion

In VR, we can evoke a very strong sense of being ‘there’ — in an operating room, clinic, or on the scene of an emergency. We have the opportunity to take the learning experience to a whole new level by instilling a sense of urgency that correspond with real world healthcare scenarios that can be very difficult, expensive or even impossible to do in the real world. I believe this will prove to yield a much higher retention rate, and help train learners on the nuances of place, context and responsibility as they absorb virtual training materials.

2.) Remote and Collaborative Learning

If you haven’t tried multi-player VR, I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to do so in the near future. It’s a force multiplier to a solo virtual experience that opens the door to powerful new opportunities in healthcare education and simulation. To be standing face-to-face virtually with someone physically located in a different part of the world is pretty mind boggling. This is one of the many reasons we’ve invested so much and so early in our Immerse Collaborative multi-player platform. Learners can work together on a lesson collaboratively, or take direction from a remote expert who can give them the latest and greatest insights on any given procedure. The possibilities are endless.

3.) Focus

One lasting impression I took away from an afternoon of remote multi-user demos to the American College of Cardiology last year was the comment of one cardiologist, who said he was most intrigued with VR’s potential capacity to train focus — something that’s very difficult to teach in the real world, but comes with experience. When it’s time to perform a procedure, you might have a long list of real-world distractions in mind — you just had a big argument with your spouse, your favorite sports team just lost a playoff game, or you have a sick child at home. Whatever the case may be, it’s vitally important to leave all of that behind and bring laser sharp focus to the task at hand. VR could be a powerful tool to help learners retain that kind of focus in the midst of chaos and tremendous responsibility that comes with caring for a patient.

4.) Fun

Let’s face it — learning can be extremely challenging, and occasionally quite boring. With VR, we have the opportunity to not only make the learning experience very realistic and immersive — we can also make it fun. Plenty of research indicates increased retention when learners are more engaged with and enjoying the content. VR can be something learners look forward to.

There are a lot more reasons I think VR is poised to transform healthcare simulation and learning, but these are the ‘big 4’ I found myself coming back to repeatedly.

Beyond these low hanging fruit, there are additional aspects of virtual environments that go far beyond traditional teaching strategies — building on the native or inherent capacity of virtual reality to do things no other medium can do. I’m still formulating those theories, and have a lot to think about from my experience at IMSH, so I’ll save that for a future post!