Democratizing Medical Education through Virtual and Augmented Reality

Technology has drastically changed the practice of medicine, arguably for the better. However, many would claim that innovation has put a strain on the patient-physician relationship. The most ubiquitous example, now part of every physician’s practice, is the Electronic Medical Record (EMR). The switch from paper to electronic records, necessitated by President Obama’s HITECH act and a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine, undeniably reduced the number of medical errors and records lost, but also created a barrier between the doctor and patient. Many physicians, and their patients, feel that EMRs distract them during clinical visits and detract from the quality of time spent together.[ii]

Technology shouldn’t hinder clinical practice, it should augment it. Physician leaders should seek out innovation that will not further alienate patients and other members of the medical community, but rather improve connectedness, which at its core revolves around shared understanding. Until recently, medical education has been limited to the few. But with the advent of augmented reality (AR), a new form of technology that integrates digital objects into the real-world environment, a less specialized medical trainee, or even an untrained patient, can gain powerful insight into disease process.

Medical Education

Medical students, residents, and fellows must become intimately familiar with both common, and extremely rare, patient presentations. Medical schools and training programs often struggle to adequately expose trainees to these unique clinical scenarios either because of lack of resources or time. For example, in the anatomy lab, only 3 or 5 students in class of 100 may learn about a specific anatomical variation just because they were assigned to a particular cadaver. Augmented reality could allow students to visualize and interact with any permutation of the human body they choose.

For example, Microsoft HoloLens, an AR headset, partnered with Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland clinic to develop a digital anatomy curriculum where students can not only see, but manipulate a 3D human body, and segment it by system. Case Western Radiology professor, Mark Griswold, explains “with HoloLens you can see the muscles on top of the skeleton all at the same time. You can bring them in and out to understand exactly where things sit…we can look at how the heart moves or look at how the brain processes information and how information flows around in our brain.”[iii] While cadavers have been central to the learning of anatomy for centuries, education with fixed, immobile bodies may not prepare students adequately for clinical practice with live patients.[iv] AR may provide students with the ability to not only personalize, but also literally revitalize their learning of anatomy.

By Sarah Zweifach | Tincture

Image Credit: Microsoft


About Peter Coffaro 820 Articles
A growth-driven and strategic executive, Peter Coffaro commands more than 20 years of progressive management success within the orthopedic industry. Recognized by as one of the top medical sales influencers in the industry; he has 10 years of combined sales management experience and has held positions as a Director, General Manager and Distributor. Peter has worked for some of the top orthopedic companies in the world - Zimmer, DePuy and Stryker. He is also the founder of OrthoFeed: a popular blog that covers orthopedic news and emerging medical technologies. Peter is a three-time Hall of Fame award winner at Johnson and Johnson and has an extensive background in organizational development, business development, sales management, digital marketing and professional education. Peter holds a B.S. degree in Biology from Northern Illinois University.

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