26 March 2024

Virtual reality matches real reality for med-student examination

Virtual Reality

Medical students can learn almost everything from books. Just not to recall their training in the chaos of a clinical situation. University of Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet usually test this skill in effective but expensive live simulations. Now researchers have developed a low-cost/high-quality alternative.

Picture of doctors using virtual reality
VR with live action film gives the user the feeling of being emotionally present in a real emergency room.

News story produced by Copenhagen Science City

Low cost alternative to live simulation

Every time the university sets up a simulation for training or examination, they place the student in a realistically equipped clinic manned with a doctor, a couple of nurses and a patient. The cost makes simulation rarer than educators like Tobias Todsen would prefer. He figured that a solution based on virtual reality could allow for much more training.

- A real emergency room is very stressful. Screaming patients, beeping machines and nurses asking you for instructions all distract you. A book won’t teach you how to deal with this. I wanted to find out if Virtual Reality would match our traditional simulation training in imitating this situation, says Tobias Todsen, Consultant, Rigshospitalet and Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen.

An opportunity to investigate Virtual Reality question

By a stroke of luck, Todsen came across an expert in human-computer-interaction just across the street. Joanna Bergström is an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, department of computer science. In Todsen’s problem she saw an opportunity to investigate whether Virtual Reality can tax the brain as much as reality does.

- There was lots of research showing that graphic virtual environments can give users a feeling of being there. Todsen wanted to use 360-degree video recorded during live simulations, and no-one had ever investigated if live-action can induce the same cognitive load. This was an interesting problem for a validation study, says Joanna Bergström, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Copenhagen.

Walking distance to collaborator sped up process

Todsen and his team filmed a traditional simulation situation for the project at Copenhagen Academy for Medical Education and Simulation, while Bergström and her team coded an easy-to-use web-based video editor that allowed the doctors to introduce text-based multiple-choice questions in the streaming video. The ease of collaboration excited Todsen.

- I have always been fascinated by coding. To me, it seems almost like magic. Even so, I was stunned by how fast the computer scientists transformed my idea into a workable product. Of course, it helped a lot, that our offices are within walking distance of each other. This experience truly made me see the value in the innovation district Copenhagen Science City, where so many potential partners are located close to each other, says Tobias Todsen, Consultant, Rigshospitalet.

VR-examination making its way to all UCPH medical students

The joint project got the name 360MedQuest and the results are in. VR with live action film does give the sense of emotional urgency that a real emergency room would. In fact, the results are so impressive, that the two have published them in the Journal of Medical Internet

Research, and they have now received a grant to implement the method for all 500 annual medical students at the University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. Bergström and Todsen both have been impressed by how easy it was to combine fields in this project.

- From the very first contact, this project has been very informal. Still, I believe we have proven that VR can be used to train for any kind of time-critical, serious, and stressful situation. I also feel that we have come up with a product that could improve medical training where they do not have the means to set up elaborate simulations, says Joanna Bergström, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Copenhagen.


Joanna Bergström
Associate Professor
Department of Computer Science
University of Copenhagen
+45 93 56 54 83


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