I couldn’t quite decide whether it was his agonized expression or the detailed tattoos covering his arms that bewildered me the most, but the full-size dummy in a hospital gown wasn’t there to freak people out. He was there to help improve health care for U.S. veterans, part of the technology arsenal of the Veterans Health Administration’s high-tech SimLearn facility, housed in an impressive building on the outskirts of Orlando.
Medical institutions invest so heavily in anatomically correct dummies like these—not to mention elaborate dissections of actual cadavers—because being able to act out scenarios in a safe learning environment can drastically enhance learning and improve patient care. For surgeons, simulation is an essential part of training.
But the equipment is costly, and clunky, and only a few medical students can work with it at a time.
“Right now, the way they’re doing it is people have these devices in their trunks, you can only fit like one in and they drive around with hundreds of dollars in disposable, simulated bones to allow people to practice one procedure once,” Dr. Justin Barad, an orthopedic surgeon and entrepreneur, told an audience at Health 2.0 last year. Last year he cofounded Palo Alto-based Osso VR, one of a number of companies turning technologies that are typically thought of as vehicles for fantasy into tools meant to teach surgery—better, faster, and ultimately cheaper, they say.
“I’ve done surgeries where I just sat there reading the instruction manual like we were putting together Ikea furniture because people don’t have a training option that’s something like [virtual reality],”wi he said. The technology could “increase patient safety, decrease complications, and increase the learning curve for complex medical devices.”
As countries around the world struggle to find health care provision models that balance the needs of aging populations with shrinking budgets—and as startups jostle to get into operating rooms—the virtual world is already being used to impact the health care of real people.
By Alice Bonasio | Fast Company
Image Credit: Case Western Reserve University