Augmented Reality in Medical Education

A first-year resident wears a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles that are plugged into software developed with the help of medical educators. She navigates through a virtual trauma bay, connecting with a team of responders who are furiously working on a child who has been underwater for over ten minutes and is not responding to CPR. Five minutes later, the child takes a shallow breath, and the student comes out of the high-tech simulation and back to the real world.

The resident was part of a computer-generated simulation that used Virtual Reality to offer realistic training to medical students. When students can get real-life experiences that do not have actual consequences, they are found to learn skills more quickly and gain confidence in their own capabilities. Virtual Reality and its counterpart, Augmented Reality (AR) are new-age technologies that merge digital and physical spaces, allowing one to add virtual content to the physical real world and augmenting the perception of reality. AR has far-reaching implications in the world of medical education for both students and teachers.

Using AR, educators can superimpose computer-generated images and sounds of organs, for example, onto a real manikin—enabling students to understand what organs look like in realistic 3D.

Augmenting Student’s Understanding and Retention

In today’s world, students at a Simulation Center stand around an instructor who is teaching them about ultrasound images. The standard view of the organ is enhanced by the use of AR to include images of surrounding tissues, bone, blood, muscles and nerves for a 360 degree understanding of the functioning of the organ. AR does not require goggles, and students are able to collaborate on the simulated imagery and interact with the instructor to gain a deeper understanding.

Responsive simulations can even mimic a patient who is in hypoxic shock or having a cardiac arrest, allowing students to decide the course of action and see the possible consequences of their treatment in real-time. Incredible, indeed!

What does the future hold?

At present, the technology is still too expensive to become a commonly used tool for medical education, and the individual numbers of educators who are using AR and VR is still relatively small. However, prices will fall soon enough, and the capabilities of the technology will undoubtedly grow. More and more developers will create new teaching modules that work around the use of virtual and augmented reality, and the growth of these technologies is sure to become more widespread in the next decade. There is no doubt that the benefits stemming from the use of Augmented Reality for educational and training purposes are beyond measure.


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