When you think of virtual reality, images of video games and 3D movies might be the first thoughts to cross your mind. But the technology also is expanding its reach into educational environments.
Medical students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) have a new method of learning patient scenarios, one that uses a headset and hand controllers in a virtual reality simulation.
WVSOM is the first medical school in the state to purchase SimX virtual reality medical simulation, according to Jenny Patton, WVSOM’s electronic health record manager, who helped facilitate the introduction of the learning tool at the school.
“Virtual reality cuts costs and enables distance learning. With SimX, instructors, learners and observers can work from different locations and join in virtual reality to work through the same cases using virtual patients,” Patton said. “Currently, SimX is the only system that also lets you run in-person multiplayer cases together in your simulation and communicate just as you would in real life.”
In July, WVSOM purchased six virtual reality headsets, with the ability to run three different case scenarios at a time with up to six participants. Other institutions and organizations that use SimX technology include the Mayo Clinic, the Ohio State University, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, New York University, Purdue University, Pennsylvania State University, the U.S. Air Force and Stanford University, among others.
Patton said she has been suggesting the use of virtual reality in the school’s curriculum for about eight years, and is happy the school pulled the trigger on moving toward incorporating these tools into the curriculum because of virtual reality’s flexibility.
“We will be able to simulate any environment, any case scenario or diagnosis, and any patient type, whether it be pediatric or adult. Utilizing virtual reality in health care education will assure that the curriculum can be updated and implemented efficiently,” Patton said. “Virtual reality simulation sets up anywhere, which means instructors can integrate it into lectures, small group sessions and even send students home with headsets so they can work together in multiplayer simulation scenarios facilitated by an instructor remotely. The technology allows students to immerse themselves in the most realistic clinical environment possible.”
Faculty and students tested the technology during simulation experiences in September at the school’s Clinical Evaluation Center, where simulation is at the forefront of medical education. Some treated a simulated patient who had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, while others handled a more complex case involving a pediatric patient who collapsed during physical exercise class and who entered ventricular tachycardia, where participants were later expected to resuscitate the patient.
Second-year student Andrew Green participated in two different virtual reality demonstrations. He said he didn’t think the simulations were a substitute for working with human-patient simulators yet, but can present a realistic experience for how students should interact with patients.
“Before we get out on rotations and we are put more into the real-life scenarios, this can give us additional practice without having to coordinate the use of standardized patients,” he said.
Patton said virtual reality simulation has the capability to provide environments that human-patient simulators can’t. For example, students can be placed in an environment where they triage a patient in a helicopter or they are on a street treating patients from a mass-casualty car explosion. In virtual reality, the patient can move around, show expressions, move extremities, wiggle their toes or fingers or puff out their cheeks.
“The technology automatically recognizes when vitals, like blood pressure or pulse, are assessed, when the correct dose of medication is administered and when procedures or tests are completed. SimX utilizes an EHR [electronic health record] in the cases as well, so you can view the patient history, medications and allergies along with active orders, labs and imaging results,” she said. “When students order medication, labs, imaging or other procedures, the EHR will automatically update those orders during the case scenario. Ultrasound can also be incorporated into this technology.”
With the purchase of SimX technology, the variety of case scenarios runs the gamut from routine clinic visits to multi-trauma cases, and from basic assessments to postoperative ICU cases. More than 150 scenarios, more than 30 different environments and more than 300 tools and procedures can be incorporated into the virtual reality technology, Patton said.
Another advantage to the technology is that it provides reporting and debriefing tools that allow educators to track student performance. The reports show which critical actions were performed and which weren’t, along with time stamps for each action performed.
In November, Patton plans to work with WVSOM faculty to develop unique case scenarios, a process she said can take 12-16 weeks. She is hopeful that virtual reality simulation will become a permanent addition to the WVSOM curriculum.
Linda Boyd, D.O., WVSOM’s vice president for academic affairs and dean, understands the importance of simulated health scenarios in medical education. She said she is excited that WVSOM continues to implement alternative learning methods for its future physicians.
“The SimX virtual reality technology takes simulation to a new level. What I love is that you can see the entire environment, the hospital room, the patient and, very importantly, the family members,” Boyd said. “In one case, the family member became anxious about their loved one feeling poorly and, by seeing that, the ‘doctors’ in the simulation could talk to the patient’s family and reassure them that their loved one was being cared for. Since medicine is much more than just giving the right drugs and doing the right tests, being able to interact in a realistic and complex scenario is valuable for medical students learning their craft.”