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How the Use of VR in Medical Training Is Improving Patient Outcomes
Virtual reality is helping medical professionals retain knowledge and deliver a higher standard of care.
Healthcare | Training/Simulation | Article
4 min read
Step into a medical school, and you may find that students are spending more time training on virtual patients than they are in rooms with cadavers. These digital doctors are part of cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) training programs, which are fueling better patient outcomes according to an influx of research on the topic. Here’s how VR in medical training got where it is today, and how patients and doctors benefit from its application.
How VR in Medical Training Became an Industry Standard
Virtual reality, as most people know it today, is a relatively new innovation. But the foundation for VR in medical training was laid in the ‘90s, years before some of today’s medical students were even born.
One of the earliest examples of VR in medical training comes from the Visible Human Project  . Initiated in 1994 by the National Library of Medicine, the project created a detailed 3D digital representation of the human body by compiling thousands of cross-sectional images. Around the same time, Dr. Richard Satava  developed the first VR surgical simulator.
These early inventions formed the bedrock of VR in medical training, but they were expensive to develop and required advanced computers to use, which made them impractical for a wide-scale rollout. Through years of iteration, the technology has become more widely available. Modern VR headsets like the HTC VIVE XR Elite , for example, have smaller form factors and are more budget-friendly than their predecessors. As the tools to create computer software became more advanced alongside VR, it became easier to create the kind of immersive, detailed scenarios necessary for effective healthcare training.
As costs have fallen and training platforms have advanced, educational bodies have adopted a wide variety of digital research centers that include virtual reality programs, such as the USC Institute for Creative Technologies’ Medical Virtual Reality program  . The program provides detailed training for a variety of medical treatments, ranging from surgical procedures to PTSD care for Iraq War veterans. Meanwhile, the Acadius platform’s Virtual Simulation Lab  teaches not only technical surgery skills, but also communication skills in multi-user settings.
The advancements in technology steadily pushed these digital platforms and programs forward, making VR in medical training not only an option for doctors, but one that may supplant traditional training methods. In fact, the American Board of Internal Medicine says that it’s best for medical residents to be trained in VR before attempting real-life interventions on patients  .
VR Is Fueling Better Patient Outcomes
There are three primary challenges that have hindered the ability to train new medical professionals: cost, time, and trainer availability. Learning the medical ropes is expensive and time-consuming, and even those willing and able to engage with training may find themselves without a teacher.
The wide-spread adoption of VR in medical training can help solve each one of the issues, ultimately resulting in a wider network of medical professionals who have greater depth of knowledge and who can provide patients with more effective care. Where the cost of medical school has been a barrier to countless individuals hoping to receive proper medical training, low cost VR solutions provide an approachable way to learn medical skillsets. Even simple programs are useful; one study found that budget VR medical training may be an effective low-cost tool to train novice surgeons, as it reduces the amount of time it takes to learn complex procedures  .
The cost benefits of virtual reality training apply to both learners and medical programs. In one study comparing VR learning to mannequin-based learning, a cost-utility analysis revealed the virtual simulation activity had a more favorable ratio of $1.08 USD versus the mannequin-based simulation activity’s $3.62 USD  .
VR learners tend to retain information better than their traditional training counterparts, too. Training performed on the Osso VR platform improved participants’ overall surgical performance by 230% compared with traditional training methods  . In the same study, VR learners performed operations 20% faster and completed 38% more steps correctly in the procedure-specific checklist. The performance improvements translate to lower training times and better patient outcomes, which is the ultimate goal of medical training itself.
The obvious limitation of medical training is the increased strain it puts on the already-tight number of trainers at the helm of programs around the globe. If medical training is more accessible, more people will partake, and that requires more experts to teach novices how to operate on patients. But VR solves the problem it creates. It increases the capacity for a teacher to monitor and provide feedback to students in digital environments, making it possible for a single trainer to reach a much larger class without sacrificing program efficacy.
As a result of the benefits VR brings, programs around the world have largely met VR in medical training with enthusiasm. Trainers and students believe that it has a place in classrooms, whether as a supplement to current material or standing as its own wing of material. VR training is an opportunity for every resource-strained medical program to reach more and better serve students.
And yet, these programs are still in their early days. There’s plenty of space for platform developers to create new training solutions that can advance VR in medical training even further, but those looking to break into the industry will need a partner. HTC VIVE can help. Our VR platform gives the developers the power to create impactful virtual tools, and hospital managers an affordable solution to train their staff. To learn more, contact us today.
 National Library of Medicine - https://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/visible/visible_human.html
 Orthopedics This Week - https://ryortho.com/2020/06/vr-legend-richard-satava-m-d-new-advisor-at-precisionos/
 USC Institute for Creative Technologies - https://ict.usc.edu/research/labs-groups/medical-virtual-reality/
 National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6550092/
 Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare - https://journals.lww.com/simulationinhealthcare/FullText/2018/02000/Cost_Utility_Analysis_of_Virtual_and.6.aspx
 Harvard Business Review - https://hbr.org/2019/10/research-how-virtual-reality-can-help-train-surgeons