Virtual, augmented reality revolutionizing med education, anatomy imaging

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) present human anatomy education with a new set of tools for many academic institutions.

According to a JAMA article published online Feb. 7, universities across the world are taking advantage of a younger generation of medical students who grew up with VR gaming to make their medical education experience more hands-on.  

"There's a way for this [AR and VR] to be used that can help the students understand spatial relationships that can be somewhat difficult for us to show with a gross specimen,” said Jennifer McBride, PhD, associate professor of surgery and director of virtual anatomy education at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, to JAMA. "It also gives students an opportunity to personalize their training, by choosing exactingly what they want to see."  

Currently, McBride and her colleagues are conducting pilot tests of Microsoft's HoloLens headset technology, considered a "mix-reality device." They plan to create 3D anatomical animations to produce interactive curriculum in a controlled environment. Big tech companies like Samsung and Facebook are also hopping on the VR/AR bandwagon for academic institutions, according to the article. 

“For years educational technology has gone through hypes and failures,” explained Christian Moro, PhD, an assistant professor at Bond University in Queensland, Australia, to JAMA. “All of a sudden the world’s biggest tech companies are investing in this space. These devices are ready for consumer use, and as such, they are unlike the many teaching tech tools that have come before them.”  

Moro and his colleagues are using AR and VR devices to manipulate 3D models of the brain, spine and kidneys. The software manipulates the experience of a virtual reality game, ultimately making medical curriculum more appealing to students as Moro's discovered.  

“The 3D environments in virtual reality and augmented reality were perceived as more lifelike, more interesting and more enjoyable," Moro told JAMA.