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Medical Training VR

There’s a baby boy on a stretcher in a children’s hospital emergency room. His mother is standing nearby, begging the doctors to do something, as her baby lies there. He is drooling and shaking; his diaper is soaked; he is making a disturbing snoring noise. An EMT comes in and says, “Doctor, this is a 1-year-old male found by the mother at home, having a seizure. The seizure’s been lasting about seven minutes. Blood glucose on scene was 90.” The EMT leaves.

A nurse exclaims to the doctor, “You have to do something! He is seizing! He is seizing!”

“Are you just going to let him die?” the mother wails.

The doctor has just a few seconds to make a decision. Should she put an oxygen mask on the baby? Give the baby Ativan or another anti-seizure medication? Quickly, she has to makes her choice, or the baby is going to die.

Well, not actually. This is a virtual reality simulation designed by doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in conjunction with Oculus’s VR for Good program and the companies AiSolve and Bioflight, intended to help medical students and residents get training in the kinds of low-frequency, high-stakes situations that children’s ER doctors encounter — situations that are particularly expensive and logistically complicated to teach.

According to Dr. Joshua Sherman of CHLA and the USC Keck School of Medicine, VR helps solve several problems for medical training programs: expense, accessibility, and verisimilitude. (Sherman also helped develop the training.) Hands-on training for medical students and residents is time-consuming and expensive — mannequins run upwards of $50,000, plus maintenance and tech support — and also requires a room full of actual people to play the doctors and nurses. The other type of training currently used is screen-based training, but that doesn’t closely mimic a real-life situation. VR manages to replicate the atmosphere of an emergency room situation while also being accessible — a trainee can easily do it on his or her own time. Besides the simulated nature of the experience, the main drawbacks right now are lack of voice control and inability to have more than one person in the experience at the same time. There’s also currently only two training modules, so the applications are limited.

Sherman’s first VR experience was the Oculus Dreamdeck — which puts users at the top of a very tall building. Sherman, who is afraid of heights, felt his heart rate go up and his palms get sweaty. “I knew it was not real but I couldn’t get myself to jump,” he said. “When I felt that physiologic response and how similar it was to the real world, I immediately thought, why can’t we use this to simulate the response on resuscitations? We can train people who we can’t train in real life, up to an extent, so then when they face it in real life, it still will be very stressful but they will be able to select the correct items and protocols under pressure.”

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