In the medical profession, hands-on experience is crucial to learning the trade. Patients need caretakers they can trust; professionals must be confident and skilled as well as compassionate. But because it’s not always possible to train in clinical situations with live patients, simulations, both in-person and virtual, are a key element for learning about and practicing medical procedures in a realistic environment.
In-person medical simulations using actors playing the part of patients are a popular way to replicate real-life situations. However, as distance learning has gained traction over the past few years, educators are also turning to immersive online simulations to help their students. In particular, virtual reality (VR) medical training is becoming a popular way to allow future doctors and nurses to practice applying the information they have studied.
VR training incorporates student involvement in training sessions in ways that traditional video conference formats do not allow. It can provide a 360-degree immersive experience that allows students to engage with the simulated environment. Since medical training requires practical, hands-on experience, it is important to maintain interactivity while using distance learning in healthcare. Students need to have agency in the training scenarios they attend.
It may be tempting to write virtual reality medical training off as a “gimmick” or a way to “gamify” education. But the truth is that VR training scenarios allow users to virtually “step into” a room and work alongside their peers from anywhere in the world, going far beyond the traditional online classroom. For example, software like Oxford Medical Simulation (OMS) is used at universities to bring complex medical scenarios to life. OMS in particular uses artificial intelligence to simulate patient behavior and communication, creating a more realistic immersive environment. With true-to-life interactions and situations, VR medical training software helps students gain self-assurance in their practice before entering in-person clinical training.
Virtual reality practice is not only important for individuals but also for pairs or groups who will be working together during a procedure. VR promotes confident collaboration. With some VR software, multiple users can join a training session together to practice working in teams. For groups who will be working together on a specific procedure, this allows them to define the most efficient systems for their group’s dynamic prior to the actual operation.
One of the challenges medical students and professionals cope with is a shortage of time. When it comes to simulations, VR medical training is more accessible than in-person sessions using actors. All it takes are a few VR headsets and the necessary software to carry out the training sessions. In this sense, using virtual reality for training optimizes resources and makes it possible for students anywhere around the globe to access top-tier standardized medical training. This is especially important with the current shortages of nurses and other medical professionals due to COVID-19, alongside increasing numbers of patients. VR training is a low-risk way to practice working in the medical field, with the ability to learn from mistakes, so that students are confident and experienced by the time they work with patients.
The power of VR in medicine extends not only to doctors but also to patients. One challenge of working in the medical field is to make sure patients are comfortable. Three percent of the American population has a phobia of doctors, and a much larger portion of the population faces general anxiety when it comes to seeking medical care. Although some of this anxiety is caused by financial worries, much of it is related to a fear of the unknown. For some, it is a fear of what might be found; for others, this fear is due to a lack of understanding of existing issues. Virtual reality can help doctors explain medical conditions and treatment options in more accessible ways for the average patient.
For patients going through long-term treatment, these types of simulations can help reduce anxiety and build trust before operations. This has led surgeons at Stanford Medicine to incorporate a new approach to building patients’ trust through the use of VR software. The system used at Stanford Medicine takes images from MRIs, CT scans, and angiograms and combines them into 3D models. Patients and doctors use a VR headset to view and interact with those models in real time. This personalized approach helps doctors to show and explain medical issues and procedures in ways that patients can see and understand. Witnessing the process in a VR setting can build patients’ confidence in their doctor’s knowledge, as well as confidence in the procedure in general. And of course, interacting with the patient’s specific model helps prepare the surgeon, too. At the time of the surgery, there are no surprises and therefore fewer risks.
Ultra-Low Latency Virtual Reality Medical Training
Real-time interaction is essential to creating a successful VR experience, especially in the medical field where hands-on training is a priority. Platforms like Red5 Pro’s upcoming Experience Delivery Network (XDN) make this possible. The XDN architecture enables end-to-end latencies of less than 400ms, and in some situations even less than 50ms, so that data transfer and user communication happen in real time. With XDN, anyone can create interactive live streams and bring their ideas to life. The platform has support for VR, 360-degree streams, and more.