How physicians use VR to train for emergency care

Recreating the sights and sounds of a trauma bay is a challenge for doctors in training. Without witnessing it firsthand, residents may have trouble fully understanding what treating a trauma patient can entail.

To introduce residents to the experience, some schools are turning to virtual reality technology to fill the gap between the classroom and the emergency department.

Using VR, residents have the opportunity to play a variety of roles and learn each team member’s responsibility during a case. Residents are able to view the scenario from different perspectives — the doctor standing next to the patient, someone standing at the end of the gurney, the nurse or medical technician to get a glimpse of a real-world situation.

“The goal eventually is to have hundreds of patients to teach different scenarios, like, ‘This is what a gunshot victim looks like,’ ‘This is what a stabbing looks like,’ ‘This is what a car accident looks like,'” Dr. Thanh Nguyen, a trauma services physician at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, told The Associated Press.

To create the various scenarios, 360-degree cameras and microphone units were set up in trauma bays. The cameras captured real-life trauma patients being treated. The scenarios were created for virtual reality by a team from Ohio University. Consent to use their images in the training materials was gained before the project was carried out.

“I felt like I needed to reach out and help the patient. You’re right there,” said Dr. Jesse Nichols, a medical resident from Adena Regional Medical Center in Chillicothe after viewing a virtual reality of a woman being treated after a fall.

Nguyen said he would like to see a vast library of scenarios, including those where the patient moves from the trauma bay to the operating room to intensive care.

The project is part of Ohio University’s Immersive Initiative to use virtual reality as a teaching tool. The school received a $1 million challenge grant to launch the initiative.

Elsewhere, virtual reality technology is being used to train physicians to respond to pediatric traumas. A partnership between Facebook Oculus and BioflightVR is working to build a training program for doctors at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Residents will have the opportunity to practice on virtual patients before moving on to real pediatric patients in the real world.

The goal is to have medical students perform under realistic workplace pressures and conditions but do so virtually. That way, they’re better prepared for real-life scenarios.

To this point, mannequins have been used extensively to simulate scenarios in the ER. Using virtual reality is a step above using mannequins, both in terms of cost and experience, said Dr. Todd Chang of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

“Experiential learning is among the best way to practice pediatric emergencies,” Chang told Haptical. “VR allows for the first-time experiential learning where not all the people are in the same room at the same time. It is far more flexible and students can perform the training far more often.”

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