Singapore's government is exploring the use of virtual reality for clinical education through a collaboration by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) with Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and local tech and visual effects company, SideFX Studios (SideFX).

The IMDA has signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with TTSH to explore healthcare tech innovations that “solve real world challenges.”

“Traditional clinical training is resource intensive and costly, and might not be able to replicate scenarios realistically," explained Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister of Communications and Information.

Launched this month, the project will witness the use of virtual and mixed reality (VR/MR) to create innovative immersive tech clinical training simulations; such as emergency airway management and provide realistic practice scenarios for suturing and hygiene.

VR allows for repetitive training and monitoring of trainees

TTSH consultant specialists from emergency medicine and surgery and their teams will be providing inputs to guide and test the development of the immersive tech simulations.

VR/MR creates an opportunity for healthcare practitioners to safely train using realistic and complex simulated environments and scenarios, such as bleeding and swelling. The enhanced realism in the training simulation also promotes greater memory retention and easier recall.

“The main value for VR training is that trainees can practise and hone skills in their own time and pace,” explained Ooi London Lucien, Professor of Surgery at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.

Professor Ooi further added that the training tasks can be tracked and monitored to enhance competency assessments, before allowing trainees to start operating on real patients. This allows VR to be "one of the most objective tools for surgical skills assessments compared to current observership methods."

The technologies can also help increase productivity by significantly reducing the requirement of valuable and limited clinician time involved in conducting trainings.

In addition, resources such as training rooms, mannequins and task trainers can be optimised – as the technology can be set up quickly – evidently increasing the number of training sessions that can be conducted.

VR as potential treatments

The technology can also help reduce hospital costs by replacing the need to perform incisions directly on physical mannequins that have expensive skin replacement parts – and reduce the need for cadavers.

Researchers also say that VR can also offer a new platform for allowing patients to see the potential outcome of any operation. They are also looking into crippling yet non-life-threatening conditions; such as agoraphobia or chronic acute anxiety – as likely candidates for virtual treatments.

The use of VR allows non-threatening yet infinitely controllable conditioning based on virtual environments. Its use can even be extended to common problems such as breastfeeding to virtually prepare new mothers for potential challenges that may arise, leading to post-partum depression.

However, at present, VR is expected to be used only to complement traditional methods of clinical training – as it is not as developed as to entirely replicate qualities such as tactile responses, patient and dynamic environmental changes. MIMS

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