While augmented and virtual reality is seeing success as a clinical treatment for issues like pain management, some healthcare organizations are using the technology to improve training and education for doctors and nurses.

The technology gives providers an immersive experience, allowing them to see and even act in typical—and not so typical—situations, learning how to act under normal circumstances as well as in an emergency. According to one study profiled in the Harvard Business Review, providers using a VR platform to train on a surgical procedure saw a 230% improvement on the Global Assessment Five-Point Rating Scale when compared to providers receiving traditional training.

“Today’s rapidly evolving surgical landscape requires new ways to provide access to experiential surgical education,” Gideon Blumstein, an orthopedic surgery resident at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and the author of the HBR story, concluded. “In addition, we must formalize our approach to technical assessment in order to more objectively measure surgeons’ capabilities to ensure a consistent level of quality and standardized skill set of our surgical workforce.”

At the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, AR and VR are used to give future clinicians a better idea of what they’ll be facing when they begin their healthcare career.

“As part of our resident education curriculum, virtual reality, used in conjunction with physical models, provides our junior residents an immersive training environment to learn a variety of procedures,” says Dawn Laporte, MD, vice chairman of education and a professor of orthopedic surgery. “Our residents can practice and assess their learnings both collaboratively and independently.”

“From a residency program perspective, reporting and analysis from surgical VR platforms can be an outstanding tool to benchmark individual performance, proficiency and progression of residents across various programs, and can also detect areas of weakness or improvement in the curriculum,” she adds. “Any time you can decrease the learning curve and increase the opportunity for residents and fellows to learn, train, and repeatedly practice outside of the operating room, will lead to improved procedural competence and performance–translating directly to better care quality and outcomes.”

Laporte says the technology platform is quite different from the traditional routine of working with cadavers or Sawbones simulation training models.

“There was a learning curve for those unfamiliar with the technology,” she says. “As with the integration of any new technology there are going to be challenges, so apart from the unexpected technical issues, [there were a few problems with] encouraging utilization of VR and making sure there are enough headsets available.”

“It’s important to note that virtual reality is not a replacement for hands-on training, but rather an enhancement,” Laporte adds. “Particularly, VR gives nuanced and aspiring surgeons the unique ability to practice both independently and repeatedly, for continuous skills training, with minimal utilization of risk or resources.”

Laporte notes that the school published a study this past April in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) which found that the use of VR technology developed by Osso VR “offers a more convenient and favorable method to surgical training over traditional reading materials and videos, and had similar performance outcomes compared with physical simulation training.”

She says Johns Hopkins will be analyzing how the platform compares to other training methods in ease of use, comfortability, and performance, as well as confidence in a simulated VR environment.

“As we continue to integrate more VR training modules into the curriculum, we’ll explore offering tailor-made courses that meet the individual and residency program requirements,” she adds. “We also look forward to the ability to introduce variability through VR modules to see how residents think on their feet or adapt when faced with unexpected events to develop the skills to anticipate and react to intraoperative complications.

At Texas A&M University’s College of Nursing in Corpus Christi, administrators are using a combination of VR and patient simulation technology developed by Gaumard to help nursing students learns the nuances of assisting in childbirth and post-partum care.

“It’s very difficult for students to visualize what’s happening,” says Lisa Snell, the school’s nursing simulation laboratory supervisor. Students use a VR headset and holograms to not only virtually experience the delivery of care, but to also see what goes on inside a woman’s body when she gives birth.

“Textbooks are flat, one-dimensional and often revised,” says Catherine Harrel, an assistant clinical professor at the school. “This gives [students] an opportunity to see what actually happens in a normal birth as well as in an emergency. They learn how to think and respond quickly [to emergencies] they might not see that often” but which might save lives.

Snell says the program has proven its value in preparing nursing students for the real world and will soon be used in local hospitals to help nurses there improve their capabilities and stay up to date on the latest treatments.

“Teaching tends to be technical, and that can lead to some bad habits,” Harrel adds. Nursing students “not only learn how to deal with different types of situations [through VR], they also learn how to communicate with patients. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do when you walk into a [patient’s] room.”

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