Healthcare Technology Featured Article

March 22, 2021

VR in Aid of Medical Training

Over the last few years, virtual reality has started to build and become more practical technology. Initially, it was a great gaming tool, but the possibilities are so endless, but now it has been harnessed for more serious issues, including training the next generation of doctors. It has been described as virtual portals of possibility, with very few limits apart from the imagination. The ability to teach without touching a person and therefore removing the case of mistakes is undoubtedly appealing, and progress has accelerated to impressive levels.

Meet George

One of the most well-known virtual reality patients is George. George was invented by Oxford Medical Simulation, a software provider who has designed him to be as authentic as possible with the best artificial intelligence brains collaborating to create him. As with most virtual reality experiences, students will need to wear a headset. The setting offers them the ability to read heart monitors, pick up syringes, or reach for stethoscopes. This means they can simulate any test or procedure they would typically do. He has been designed to be entirely anatomically accurate; they can listen to his heart, look in his throat, and too many other procedures and investigations. George was born in 2017 and now has a range of scenarios that students can work through with things like heart failure, strokes, diabetic emergencies, bladder infections and sepsis. It closes a gap between the classroom and the actual patient giving practical experience but removing any element of danger if mistakes are made. It also means that teaching can be tailored to whatever the professor once coma rather than wait for an emergent case to appear in a hospital and have 20 or so students crowding round or trying to see.

Existing Methods

This means that existing methods can still be used, as hospitals do you have donated cadavers, mannequins and other tools, but it adds to the training as large groups of students can access any procedure at any time to gain confidence and skill. The VR patient has the support of many consultant surgeons, including Omar Sabri, who is a trauma and orthopaedics specialist at St George's Healthcare NHS Trust. He has worked with George and his trainees and states that the advantage of being able to practise for longer before moving to actual patients 'reduces surgical error and shortens the learning curve for trainees'.


Technology seems to have been ideally placed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is no exception. Many courses for students at universities worldwide have been delayed and substantially cut down because of lockdown and other restrictions. The VR method has meant that students can keep practising and learning new skills without coming into contact with actual patients and increasing exposure or spread of the virus. Demand has undoubtedly gone up, as reported by the company OMS themselves.

Experienced Surgeons Weigh In

With such a vast knowledge requirement, even the most qualified and experienced surgeon can use the technology to practise something they may not have been called upon to do for a while. Another virtual patient Osso VR uses the Oculus quest headset and also has a fully functioning operating theatre that has been rendered to be spot on. Everything is present, including all of the machines used by the anaesthesia team to monitor the patient, and experienced surgeons will find it just like the real thing. Of course, over the years, surgical procedures are modified, with new techniques such as keyhole surgery, and this also gives experienced surgeons a chance to practise continuous professional development skills.

Welcomed by Students

The technology has been overwhelmingly welcomed by students, who feel that it gives them more confidence when they finally treat actual patients. They can take their time and go over any procedure that may seem complicated, and most venues that are providing this form of learning have the VR headsets available to students at any time so they can use their days off to practise. It is proving to be a very accessible, cost-effective teaching tool. It removes the pressure of having concerned family members watching. Although the general public is given the option of not having medical students in the room, this doesn't help learning either. So, patients and their families will be reassured that plenty of practice has taken place in a virtual reality scenario, meaning that the student doctors, interns, and others can handle their cases with confidence.

Continued Developments

It is clear that virtual reality, artificial intelligence and augmented reality are here to stay. So, there are going to be developments in all areas, including medical education. At the moment, students must continue to wear their headsets, but over time it is likely that a whole room will be able to become a virtual reality room where people will be able to walk in and take part in the surroundings that have been rendered around them. With demand for the NHS and other healthcare services, there is a constant drive to attract new doctors and nurses to the world of medicine. Being able to offer state of the art training is undoubtedly going to prove a successful lure. Confidence has to be one of the most significant issues that potentially put people off applying for this kind of training because you have other people's lives in your hands, which is a massive responsibility. Being able to offer such advanced training could satisfactorily resolve this worry.

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