A World First: Medical Students Treat a Virtual Patient

Alexandra Cazan

July 29, 2022

ADDENBROOKE, UK — Medical students at Addenbrooke's Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals, have become the first in the world to experience a new way of learning using mixed-reality holographic patients. They are using technology called HoloScenarios that was developed in collaboration with the Los Angeles, California-based company GigXR. Cambridge University students and doctors received the experience positively.

Virtual Examining Room

Mixed reality merges real and virtual environments, creating a new environment where physical and digital people and objects exist and interact in real time. To enter the examining room, doctors and students don a Microsoft HoloLens virtual reality headset. They see one other and encounter a patient presenting with a respiratory condition. Students must interact with the patient, make a diagnosis, and choose a treatment. Medical professors in the examining room can alter the scenario, change the patient's responses, and introduce complications. Faced with this scenario, students practice vital, real-time decision-making. Instructors are also able to record students' observations and discussions, which then allows them to talk about the scenario that is unfolding. This first module developed by GigXR covers common respiratory conditions and emergencies. The hologram patient has asthma, followed by anaphylaxis, a pulmonary embolism, and pneumonia. Other modules in cardiology and neurology are in development.

Interactive, Realistic Learning

"Throughout medical school, we would have situations where actors would come in and act as patients," explained Aniket Bharadwaj, one of the first medical students to test this new technology. "With the pandemic, a lot of that changed to tablet-based interactions because of the risk to people of the virus. Having a hologram patient that you can see, hear, and interact with is really exciting. It makes training much more interactive and realistic. You can also make mistakes completely safely and then learn lessons from them." In addition to this, students can watch, take notes, and evaluate the scenarios that are unfolding with patients from a smartphone or tablet. Traditional simulation methods with trained actors require significant available human and material resources, which makes training with simulated situations costly and complicated to implement. Mixed reality is a more accessible solution, especially since the demand from academic institutions for this type of solution is rapidly expanding.

Shared Learning Model

The interest in this technology also lies in the fact that it can be made available anywhere in the world. All you need is a virtual reality headset connected to the internet to enter the same examining room, no matter what continent you are on. The goal is to be able to ensure remote medical courses and training in the future. The technology developed by GigXR is now available under license for all academic institutions everywhere. As Arun Gupta, MD, PhD, anesthetist at Cambridge University Hospitals, director of postgraduate education at Cambridge University Health Partnership, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and project leader stated, "Thanks to true-to-life immersive learning in virtual reality, we're helping to evolve education [from a mentorship-based model] to one where students around the world can have equal access to top-flight expertise for mastering [intervention-based] clinical skills."

Cambridge Investigation

Alongside the development and release of HoloScenarios, Cambridge University is conducting research to evaluate the outcomes obtained by students as a result of the mixed-reality training. The aim of their research is to measure the effectiveness of this learning in real patient situations. Riikka Hofmann, PhD, associate professor at Cambridge University's Faculty of Education, Cambridge, United Kingdom, is leading an analysis of the new HoloScenarios technology as a teaching and learning resource. "Our research is aimed at uncovering how such simulations can best support student learning," she said. "We are studying this solution in the same way as textbooks, models, or computer software, by verifying how it would improve outcomes in contacts with patients."

Potential New Prospects

In general, "mixed reality is increasingly recognized as a useful method of [simulator] training," said Gupta. For GigXR, the success of this technology represents an important step in the development of mixed-reality applications for medical training. Company founder David King Lassman plans to develop new modules and applications for a whole series of pathologies and for all course levels, including continuing education for healthcare professionals. According to Stephen Powis, PhD, MBA, National Health Service national medical director, "this unique development by teams in Cambridge could enhance the learning experience of our next generation of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers."

This article was translated from MediQuality.


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