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How Extended Reality Will Accelerate Medical Training

 

The adoption of xR applications will accelerate in 2018 as it provides cheaper and more effective training than traditional approaches.

Extended reality (xR) refers to real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables. In the coming years it’s expected that the adoption of immersive technologies in training will increase considerably, spanning areas from sports training to soft skills education, and one sector which stands to gain significant efficiencies from their adoption is medical training. Below we outline four key areas that can be significantly enhanced with appropriate xR training:

Extended reality (xR) refers to real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables Click To Tweet
Medical Visualization and Representation

The human body is a 3-dimensional structure that functions as a dynamic system. One of the first goals of medical training is to impart a deep understanding of anatomy, physiology and the dynamics of this amazing system. In order to do that, a medical trainee must first map that information out in their mind, forming a visual mental representation of the human body that is 3D, dynamic and perfectly mimics the actual form.

One of the first goals of medical training is to impart a deep understanding of anatomy, physiology and the dynamics of this amazing system Click To Tweet

The most common way to achieve this goal is to have students read textbooks filled with drawings and pictures of the human body. The learner must thus construct their 3D dynamic mental representation using 2D, static descriptions, often supplemented with video or cadaver study. Overall, this puts a significant cognitive load on the brain and is not ideal and does not recruit the regions of the brain that have evolved specifically for constructing visual mental representations. There must be a better way!

xR technologies are now being developed to help medical trainees construct mental representations of the human form that are 3D and dynamic Click To Tweet

In fact, xR technologies are now being developed to help medical trainees construct mental representations of the human form that are 3D and dynamic. One can think of these tools as xR textbooks. [For a more detailed description of the psychological and brain science of xR medical visualization tools, I co-authored an article, currently under review, with Peter Campbell, CEO at xpereal which is available under request.]

HoloLens Medical Training MR XR AR VR HealthTech Medical Training Consultancy

 

Optimized Behavioral Skills Training

A nurse learning how to draw blood or to insert a catheter is learning a set of motor behaviors. A doctor learning how to deliver a baby, or a surgeon learning to remove a brain tumor are also doing so. The degree varies, but in all cases motor skills are critical.

The human brain has evolved two distinct learning systems: One for cognitive skills – which recruits the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobes and learns “what” one needs to do to solve a task – and the second for behavioural skills that learn “how” one solves the task.

Behavioral skills are learned gradually and incrementally via dopamine-mediated, error-correction learning in the basal ganglia of the brain and require extensive practice Click To Tweet

So while the checklist of steps to follow to deliver a baby would be learned by the cognitive skills learning system in the brain, the motor behaviors required to complete the steps on the baby delivery checklist would be learned by the behavioral skills learning system in the brain. Behavioral skills are learned gradually and incrementally via dopamine-mediated, error-correction learning in the basal ganglia of the brain and thus require extensive practice.

xR medical training technologies are now being developed that optimally target the behavioral skills training system in the brain Click To Tweet

Yet xR medical training technologies are now being developed that optimally target the behavioral skills training system in the brain. Some of the more advanced platforms include realistic artificial cadavers that even provide the appropriate haptic feedback.

Some of the more advanced platforms include realistic artificial cadavers that even provide the appropriate haptic feedback Click To Tweet

Training for Retention

The goal of all training, including medical training, is to convey information that will be stored in long-term memory and not forgotten. The brain is “hardwired” to forget so this is not a trivial problem to solve. We must “Train for Retention. Yet real-world medical training is so costly and time-consuming that medical trainees rarely obtain enough of it. An xR training platform solves this problem because the trainee can practice anytime that they want.

The Human brain is hardwired to forget Click To Tweet

In line with the science of optimized training for retention, trainees could receive training in relatively short duration chunks that are spaced over time to allow long-term memory consolidation. Taken together, this reduces forgetting, speeds the transition to long-term “muscle memory”, and ultimately promotes the formation of habits.

Training for Extreme Situations

Another advantage of xR training is that a broad range of situations can be more effectively prepared for, ranging from routine to extreme emergency scenarios. Imagine the EMT who must deliver a baby in the back of the ambulance, without some critical piece of equipment and with a mother whose blood pressure is dangerously low. These are low probability scenarios, but are often life-threatening situations. Medical personnel want to be trained adequately in these scenarios so that they are mentally and physically prepared to handle them, and the broad-based training available with an xR medical training platform can increase generalization and transfer of the trained information, thus increasing preparedness.

xR training can help prepare medical professionals more effectively for situations ranging from routine to extreme emergency scenarios Click To Tweet

 

Immersive technologies could give learners enough realistic practice to make them job-ready before ever entering a medical facility to see patients Click To Tweet

xR technology therefore offers a time and cost-effective tool for training medical personnel, optimally targeting the behavioral skills learning system incorporating training procedures that optimize retention. Finally, extreme, low probability events can be trained effectively. When implemented correctly, these technologies could give learners enough realistic practice to make them job-ready before ever entering a medical facility to see patients. The days of on-the-job training with live human patients (in ERs and training hospitals) could soon be over.

The days of on-the-job training with live human patients could soon be over Click To Tweet

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Todd Maddox is Science, Sports and Training Correspondent at Tech Trends, and the CEO of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting. Follow him on Twitter @wtoddmaddox