The benefits of virtual reality in medical training

When athletes get stuck in a rut and suddenly struggle with their sport, they're told to visualize themselves successfully accomplishing their goal. There's a strong mental element to performance and seeing yourself having success is a great confidence booster. It therefore isn't surprising that virtual reality is an effective training tool. You no longer have to imagine yourself accomplishing a task. You can literally see it.

In healthcare, virtual reality technology is increasingly being used to teach medical students, train new staff members and refresh current medical professionals on the skills of their trade. As virtual training becomes more common, health facilities are finding a number of benefits to the system over more traditional teaching models. 

A new training model
According to Fortune magazine, mobile virtual reality programs like Gear VR,  Google Cardboard and VR One are changing the way healthcare providers and facilities are training personnel. At Nicklaus Children's Hospital, for example, Fortune reported that software is being developed through a partnership with Next Galaxy Corp, a virtual reality company, that allows providers to practice procedures such as CPR, wound care, starting an IV and Foley catheter insertion.  In contrast to traditional training, virtual reality programs offer the opportunity to hone skills in a real world scenario that allows for hands-on application. This is especially helpful for students who may have never performed the task before. 

Medical students are already taking a more hands-on approach to learning when it comes to electronic health records and electronic medical records software. In January 2014, the Association of American Medical Colleges released a statement that discussed the importance of finding ways to integrate EHR and EMR training into medical education. Healthcare organizations are finding that actually using EHR and EMR systems, either through simulations or limited use of the actual records, is the best way for students to learn the software. It is this same concept that makes virtual reality programs so appealing for teaching medical procedures and skills.  

Practice makes perfect
Like learning any new skill, practices is critical to perfection. And few places require such a high level of performance as the medical field. While it's important for medical students to receive hands-on training in their field, sometimes it's hard to provide that real world experience in a way that doesn't endanger patients. Making mistakes is an important part of the learning process, but there's no room for errors when your work can mean the difference between life and death. 

Consequently, virtual reality offers the benefit of providing medical students and other learners in the health field the opportunity to practice their trade in a hands-on realistic scenario without the stakes involved in traditional patient care. In this environment, mistakes are learning tools that don't carry potentially life-threatening consequences. 

Preparation for the unexpected 
Virtual reality training programs also offer students the opportunity to practice responding to uncommon scenarios. Doctors and other healthcare providers need to be prepared for any situation, but it can be difficult at times when there are certain health complications or emergencies that don't arise very often. 

For example, Fortune reported that that a tracheal insertion could only previously be done on a live patient at a high cost. But with new virtual reality software, the procedure can be practiced virtually at a much lower price. 

Benefits to patient care
One of the major benefits that have come from virtual training is increased information retention rates, Fortune magazine reported. In Miami Children's Health System, for example, Dr. Narendra Kini​, CEO of MCHS, reported that the system found that a year after training, participants retained 80 percent of the information from virtual training compared to just 20 percent when participating in more traditional methods. Kini said that this is likely due to the fact that the participants created actual memories of performing the tasks.  

"The level of understanding through VR is great because humans are primarily visual and VR is a visual format," Kini told Fortune. "We believe that there are numerous opportunities where repetitive training and skill set maintenance are critical for outcomes. Since there are not enough patients in many cases to maintain these skill sets, virtual reality is a real addition to the arsenal. Imagine also scenarios where we need to practice for accreditation and or compliance. In these situations virtual reality is a god-send." 

Virtual reality may not only help medical professionals. It also has the potential to help patients learn more about their own care, according to Mary Spio, CEO of Next Galaxy. Forbes magazine reported that Spio hopes that Next Galaxy's virtual reality model will help educate and prepare not only providers, but their patients as well.  

"By visualizing the situation, it sinks in a more visual way when they have actually experienced the procedure beforehand," Spio told Forbes. "They become more responsible for their own healing and treatment by having a deeper understanding." 

Through helping patients to better understand their own healthcare, providers can increase patient engagement and consequently improve outcomes.  

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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