Simulation is becoming increasingly popular in clinical training for medical education. Virtual reality (VR) is being utilized now at an increased level to simulate real experiences. Both medical students and medical trainers benefit from several things through using VR for clinical training. It’s a very effective educational tool for established learning purposes across the world.

How much it grows in the future depends on how much it will be part of medical training and the new technological innovations that permit simulated clinical experiences to be shared among educators and students. It will enhance how education is delivered. Future clinicians will have access to quality education and training without geographic limitations.

There have been several changes in the healthcare systems in the past couple of years. Therefore, medical students have to be trained in a manner that fits all the changes. The main thing is how they practically use the skills they learn. It increases the need for practical modes of learning in which virtual reality is included. It makes it easier to deliver experiential learning when it comes to clinical training and education.

Anatomy laboratories are slowly replaced by virtual reality

Anatomy laboratories are not the most fun places to be. I still remember a couple of nightmares I had during my medical training. While using VR to learn, medical students deal with situations similar to what happens in real life, and they’re expected to respond as they would in real life. Afterward, an assessment is done on how they performed.

It’s a very innovative means of education that is more effective than the way medical students have been traditionally trained. The main difference with using virtual reality in health education instead of traditional methods is that it requires more resources. It is challenging for most institutions due to a lack of sufficient funds.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality are immersive technologies that have been some of the most popular means of educating future surgeons. The most commonly used method is VR. It involves using VR headsets by the learner to engross in a virtual environment that’s interactive.

Medical students can learn more effectively by using experience rather than theory in skill acquisition to interact with their patients in the future. On the other hand, augmented reality works by turning the learning environment into a digital interface using virtual objects in real-time. This is done through augmented reality browsers, devices, and trackers.

Surgical training has widely embraced the use of surgical simulation. There are approximately 1 million deaths every year caused by surgeries, while at least 7 million people suffer from complications after surgical procedures. The use of immersive VR has proven beneficial in surgical training since it reduces the risk of injury and deaths.

It enhances the expected outcome, and it’s also time-efficient when used in an operating room. A lot of surgical programs have received excellent results from virtual reality surgery. There are a lot of practices in general surgery that can be trained using VR. They include procedures such as transvenous lead extraction, cardiopulmonary resuscitation training, clinical decision making, and improvement of communication skills.

How can virtual reality surgical training save life?

The main challenge facing the growth of medical devices being developed is training clinicians to use them. Lack of proper training can lead to negative consequences from using these devices instead of the intended positive outcome. Before reaching proficiency by a surgeon, the number of surgical procedures needed is 50 to 100, unlike before it was 10 to 20 cases. This shows how much the current surgical training system has a lot of loopholes. However, to bring about success in medicine, virtual reality, mobile technology, and augmented reality have to be used.

What is the market potential for virtual reality surgical training?

Many surgeons go into the operating room without being thoroughly familiar with most of the new medical devices. They end up needing assistance in researching the best ways to learn how to use them. This demonstrates how essential it is to utilize practical learning before starting to attend to patients. Virtual reality offers a great environment that provides an immersive experience to maximize the benefits and impact of surgical training. This shows how much potential it has when it comes to surgeries.

Simulation has become so much easier with VR in many ways, including cost-effectiveness, reliability, and accessibility. Surgeons can practice and acquire new techniques and muscle memory skills wherever they feel the need to due to the simplicity in operation and the ease of mobility.

The only equipment required is the virtual reality headsets and motion controllers that allow practical learning. However, a great deal of research needs to be done, and evidence gathered, proving that VR does play a part in improving surgical training before the entire medical community fully accepts it. This is because the healthcare industry is still very conservative and welcoming new ideas is hard.

Benefits of virtual reality in surgical training

The use of virtual reality has proved to be promising in enhancing and saving lives. The following are some of the benefits:

  • Some surgeons haven’t been trained and assessed enough to perform complicated surgeries. This leads to risking patients’ lives. Training doctors with virtual training might help deal with a lack of knowledge on specific devices, hence improving their skills.
  • Surgeons go through objective assessments in surgical programs to deal with any gaps in their skills. This is done through training that gives them a real-life feel of the operating room. By becoming more accurate when performing surgeries, the success rate can be improved.
  • The use of virtual reality surgery is efficient in fully measuring surgical proficiency. The tools used have a ” checklist-style” feature that is incorporated. This feature shows how surgeons are performing and the areas they can improve on.

What are the current limitations, drawbacks, and improvement needed?

Even though VR offers many benefits to surgical training, some improvements could make the experience much better. Surgeons are one of the groups benefiting more from VR. Patients aren’t put at risk as doctors learn new procedures. One of the most impactful features that could be added is haptic gloves.

The main limitation currently in VR for surgical training is the lack of force feedback. The most impactful improvement that can accommodate for the lack of force feedback is the haptic gloves. Haptic feedback is essential for robotic surgery and less-invasive surgery as well. In particular, motion and finger tracking technology is still being examined, and it isn’t yet available for the world to use.

Medical students can improve their clinical training before becoming surgeons with the use of VR gloves. With that type of practice, they can become much better and reliable surgeons when they start practicing. The VR gloves will be essential in studying and assessing anatomical structures because they’ll provide the user the ability to feel the texture.

This feature makes virtual organs and objects used to be more realistic. The accuracy in digital devices and virtual environments in clinical training mainly depends on a user’s ability to feel. The haptic feedback is what will make medical training in virtual reality even better.

Categories of haptic gloves

It’s not an easy task to develop technological devices that can mimic the sense of touch. The haptic gloves’ mechanism depends mainly on proprioceptors that track movement and mechanoreceptors that provide information on the texture that has touched your hands. The two main categories include:

Exoskeletons

This technology entails using an articulated exoskeleton that connects the fingers to the outer parts of the hands.

Traditional gloves

These have actuators inside the fabric used, or sometimes on the outside of the gloves. The main challenge currently with traditional gloves is using small actuators and good material for flexibility.

An example of one innovative company that utilizes a different technique is HaptX. It combines both kinesthetic plus tactile information. For maximum flexibility, textiles made of silicone are used by the device. It consists of microfluidic air channels and several pneumatic actuators on the skin. The glove enables users to feel a rough sense of touch that is highly realistic due to the 130 actuators in the glove.

HaptX combined with FundamentVR, a VR platform leading in the distribution of immersive training technology for students and educators. The two companies developed a surgical training program. The aim is to enable surgeons to practice and fully develop muscle memory which is critical in reaching a high level of proficiency in successfully executing various surgical procedures.

Conclusion

VR is being developed and improves daily to create new and more functional devices. It’s not a smooth road there, but there’s a lot of hope and progress, making the result worth it. The current issue, which is creating haptic gloves to bring about a sense of touch, hasn’t been easy. However, a lot of companies have come together to make it a reality. The future of VR in medical training is surgical robots. They help with making surgical procedures as minimally invasive as possible.

Assisted robotic surgery enhances the safety of the patient as well as reducing the chances of death. They make the learning curves associated with performing a successful surgery much easier for the surgeon. With more accessible and less complicated learning options, future surgeons will be more confident and competent about what they are doing, resulting in more desirable and optimal surgical outcomes.