USF study makes operating rooms come to life in virtual reality to potentially improve medical training

It could be a game-changer for surgical training.  A local medical technology startup is working with USF Health to make operating rooms more accessible through virtual reality.  A study is now underway to examine the effectiveness of this technology in medical training.  

The USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation is dedicated to training healthcare professionals, providing realistic simulations that can replicate nearly any clinical situation.

"I think especially with COVID, we've been pushed to sort of investigate how else can we do training, especially for difficult procedures or rarely seen procedures, and how can we do that effectively," explained Dr. Haru Okuda, USF Health CAMLS Executive Director.

For the last few years, USF health CAMLS has been collaborating with Immertec, a Tampa startup pushing the boundaries on how virtual reality can be used for medical training.

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Currently, if a healthcare professional or medical resident needs to train remotely, videos, PowerPoint, or video conferencing are the only options.  Using VR technology will give the user a more immersive experience, as if they are actually in the room.

Trainees wear a VR headset while cameras allow them to observe surgical procedures, and even ask questions, no matter where they are located.

"This is all live streaming, which is really important because you want to have that communication back and forth with an expert, because being able to talk to an expert is important for learning," Immertec Human Factors Scientist, Shannon Bailey, PhD said.

This innovative technology could transform the healthcare industry.  Recently, the federal government recognized that.

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CAMLS and Immertec have been awarded a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health.

"NIH grants are very competitive. So that's one of the reasons that we're very excited because it definitely validates the work that we've been doing," said Bailey.

Over the next few months, they will study how this 3D virtual reality training compares to typical remote training for emergency medicine physician residents.

"If we're able to research and find out that this is actually better than traditional remote, two-dimensional training, we're able to now bring training to places that were traditionally very difficult to do, like rural environments," Okuda said.

It would also open to the door to more funding, allowing the research to expand beyond medical resident training.