Medical students rate VR highly for diagnosis training

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Medical students need a distraction-free environment where they can practice diagnosing critically ill patients. Virtual reality may be the answer, according to a new study

Quick read

➨ Dr Teresa Riech worked with a team from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and at OSF HealthCare’s Jump Education and Simulation Center
➨ They created two virtual reality cases featuring critically ill patients, an adult with unstable heart rhythm and a child with difficulty breathing
➨ Specially-trained actors were recorded playing the role of the patients presenting with signs and symptoms of distress, and this was embedded in the Enduvo virtual reality platform

The story

Medical students who participated in a trial investigating the use of virtual reality as a training tool for diagnosing critically ill patients rated the immersive technology as equal to or better than a traditional lecture.

Dr Teresa Riech, who is presenting the study’s results at the Association of American Medical Colleges 2020 Annual Meeting, worked with a team from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) and at OSF HealthCare’s Jump Education and Simulation Center.

“There is a real value in experiential learning,” according to Riech, “and with today’s reality, Covid-19 makes it very challenging to connect medical students, and in some cases medical residents, with real life scenarios to test their ability to assess patients and make critically important decisions about their care.”

Working with medical students from UICOMP, they created two virtual reality cases featuring critically ill patients, an adult with unstable heart rhythm and a child with difficulty breathing.

Specially-trained actors were recorded playing the role of the patients presenting with signs and symptoms of distress, and this was embedded in the Enduvo virtual reality platform.

The platform was developed at OSF HealthCare’s Jump Education and Simulation Center. It allows clinical educators to build lectures in virtual reality, using 3D anatomic models, video clips and diagrams.

Once lectures were built into the modules, medical students participating in the study were able to proceed through the cases at their own pace while being provided immediate feedback on answers to questions. 

Results include learners rating virtual reality equal to or better than a traditional lecture. They also took the opportunity to review the material carefully, remaining in the learning environment well beyond recorded time.

The study also revealed that the immersive nature of virtual reality minimises distraction, because users are unable to focus on anything else while wearing a headset, and participating medical students expressed greater confidence in their own abilities, with 45% reporting that they felt completely confident in their skills after the virtual reality lessons.

Commenting on the results, Riech said: “There is much less eye contact now in the classroom. Truthfully, it is a very different culture than from when I started teaching many years ago. In the digital age, this is how we keep learner attention most effectively.”

She added: “Medical students are not going to listen to me for 30 minutes or certainly not for an hour but when you flip the classroom and they have control over it, it’s a very different outcome.”

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Image: Dr Teresa Riech, OSF HealthCare

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