Following on from our last blog post about how virtual reality (VR) is being used in healthcare to directly help patients, this sequel post is all about the VR companies developing technologies for medical education and healthcare professionals. To jog your memory, VR is an immersive experience in a simulated world and AR overlays digital information onto the real-world using displays, cameras, and sensors . AR essentially enhances the real-world, whereas VR creates an entirely new world .
VR has the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and train new generations of students, healthcare professionals, and surgeons. There are several companies that now offer VR solutions to train surgeons or to help them improve existing skills . Touch surgery offers more than 200 VR surgical simulations and videos across 17 specialities that learners can access anywhere with an internet connection . FundamentalVR offers flight simulator-like training for surgeons. The technology allows them to rehearse, practice, and improve surgical techniques in a controlled environment that includes haptic elements for tactile feedback . A recent study from Harvard Business Review showed that VR-trained surgeons had a 230% boost in overall performance and were faster and more accurate in performing surgical procedures compared to surgeons who had been trained traditionally . Previously, only a couple of students at a time have been able to peer over a surgeon’s shoulder during an operation and learn through this method. With a VR camera, it is now possible for thousands of medical students to see through the surgeon’s eyes at one time by wearing their VR googles while the surgeon streams operations globally . Students at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) are already being taught with the help of a Microsoft HoloLens and CWRU-developed curriculum to learn about human anatomy, and the entire health education campus is cadaver-free . Students from the dental, medical, and nursing schools will learn about anatomy in realistic and transferable ways using virtual and or mixed reality devices only by viewing 3D holograms of the entire body and all its encompassing systems and organs. The inside of organs can be viewed from any angle to investigate how different diseases and injuries affect different parts of the body .
Perhaps one of the most exciting advancements in this field is the combination of VR with proprietary human-like surgical robotics to enable surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgery. The approach has been designed to improve patient outcomes . They have essentially succeeded in shrinking the surgeon and putting them inside the patient! Vicarious surgery has developed the first surgical robot to receive FDA Breakthrough designation and they are well on their way to re-shaping the future of surgery .
A unique application of VR in education is helping students and young physicians develop a better sense of empathy for their elderly patients. Using a VR headset, students and physicians have been experiencing how it feels to grow old, be unable to lift your hand above your head, how it feels to lose a finger, and to recover from a heart attack . Empathy is one of the key skills needed to become a doctor and through using VR you can more effectively put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The University of New England conducted a study by incorporating VR simulations of age-related conditions into their medical school curriculum, and results showed that VR enhanced students’ understanding of age-related health conditions and increased their empathy for older adults with vision and hearing loss or Alzheimer’s disease .
Finally, VR is also being used to facilitate diagnoses. One such company doing so is SyncThink. 15 years of clinical research was put towards developing a VR headset called the EYE-SYNC and which now has received FDA clearance . It works by tracking a patient’s eye movements to help clinicians determine whether they have a concussion or not . SyncThink also has other products aimed at assessing brain health and monitoring recovery to help clinicians make more objective decisions. SCAT5 is a commonly used clinical assessment to assist clinicians in the evaluation of brain health and Simple Reaction Time is a tablet-based assessment to determine how rapidly a subject can react to a stimulus .
Even in the relatively early adoption state the world is currently in, VR has drastically reshaped what is possible in the medical field to improve outcomes for patients. The companies listed above are truly at the forefront of this technology and it is important to stay up to date with what is to come. It may not be long before VR is as familiar to medical professionals as many of the tools and techniques they currently couldn’t do without today.
 HealthManagement. 2020. The Future Of Augmented Reality In Healthcare. [online] Available at: <https://healthmanagement.org/c/healthmanagement/issuearticle/the-future-of-augmented-reality-in-healthcare#:~:text=Augmented%20reality%20is%20used%20in,experience%20for%20users%20and%20developers> [Accessed 23 October 2020].
 Parmar, A., Baum, S., DeArment, A. and Reuter, E., 2020. The Benefits Of AR In Healthcare – Medcity News. [online] MedCity News. Available at: <https://medcitynews.com/2019/09/the-benefits-of-ar-in-healthcare/?rf=1> [Accessed 22 October 2020].
 Harvard Business Review. 2020. Research: How Virtual Reality Can Help Train Surgeons. [online] Available at: <https://hbr.org/2019/10/research-how-virtual-reality-can-help-train-surgeons> [Accessed 13 November 2020].
 The Medical Futurist. 2020. 5 Ways Medical Virtual Reality Is Changing Healthcare. [online] Available at: <https://medicalfuturist.com/5-ways-medical-vr-is-changing-healthcare/> [Accessed 11 November 2020].
 Touchsurgery.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.touchsurgery.com/> [Accessed 13 November 2020].
 PLATFORM, T., PLATFORM, T. and Feature, F., 2020. FUNDAMENTAL SURGERY – The Virtual Reality Surgical Simulator. [online] Fundamental Surgery. Available at: <https://fundamentalsurgery.com/> [Accessed 23 October 2020].
 Consult QD. 2020. New Health Education Campus Offers Immersive Medical Training. [online] Available at: <https://consultqd.clevelandclinic.org/new-health-education-campus-offers-immersive-medical-training/> [Accessed 13 November 2020].
Vicarious Surgical. (n.d.). Vicarious Surgical – The Fusion of Surgical Robotics and Virtual Reality. [online] Available at: https://www.vicarioussurgical.com/ [Accessed 13 Nov. 2020].
 Dyer, E., Swartzlander, B. and Gugliucci, M., 2018. Using virtual reality in medical education to teach empathy. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 106(4).
 SyncThink. (n.d.). Home. [online] Available at: https://syncthink.com/ [Accessed 13 Nov. 2020].