There’s a lot of exciting conversation swirling around about artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). Most agree that AI is transforming POCUS by allowing access to the world hitherto unforeseen. Check out our last post for the details! In this post, the conversation continues and expands to address virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and the role of each in revolutionizing the way POCUS training is delivered.
For a small, but essential vocabulary lesson and so much more, we spoke with Ben Delaney, Chief Analyst of Greenlight Insights, a company with its finger on the pulse of the latest in AR and VR trends and intelligence worldwide. VR and AR are two different technologies. According to Delaney, VR lets a user interact in an imaginary or realistic world separate from the physical world. It is a synthetic environment comprised of computer-generated, three-dimensional objects with which random interaction is possible.
AR lets a user interact with our physical world through a superimposed digital overlay designed to enhance interaction with the world. It is the addition of computer-generated imagery (CGI) to real life imagery, in either a see-through or video-based display. Generally, the CGI is registered to the real world using a variety of sensors. These sensors may include video, GPS and external or internal tracking systems.
Virtual and augmented reality technologies, respectively, are already used in training settings in several industries. Currently, military and industrial sectors use virtual and augmented reality to help facilitate training scenarios that would be dangerous if a real-life setup was the only viable option. Some automobile manufacturers are using AR to help new car owners become familiar with the functionality. Mechanics are also using AR applications to assist them with walking through the step-by-step instructions of certain vehicle repairs.
The medical industry has also brought VR and AR training into its fold. Hospitals use it to train for emergency preparations. It’s also used to train for surgeries and other complicated procedures. Additionally, phlebotomists are trained on how to insert needles into the patient’s vein effectively without any complications.
There are many training opportunities and certifications available for POCUS users, and they traditionally consist of coursework and hands-on instructions with real people. So, is there a need to couple technology with training? We’re glad you asked.
In blogs past, we have trumpeted and foretold of the expansion of POCUS beyond radiologists and sonographers. With availability to almost all practitioners, training is crucial now more than ever. Integrating AI via programming will help provide purveyors of POCUS with reliable diagnostic support and intel to assist with on-the-spot diagnostic interpretation. This will revolutionize patient care and generate confidence in both technicians and patients.
Training can also do the same, however, but on a grander scale. Nevertheless, according to Delaney, there isn’t much VR- and AR-infused training programs for POCUS. How these technologies will impact POCUS readiness is still being researched in labs and universities and have not yet moved into actual practice.
“This is not unusual. Medicine is an extremely conservative field. Medical researchers will study something for years before they put it to work because sometimes the risks are too high. The risks with POCUS are a lot lower than most invasive procedures. I think it will come on quickly as people realize how valuable it is,” Delaney predicts.
Let’s imagine with Delaney the value that virtual and augmented reality can provide in equipping healthcare providers with the know-how and skills necessary to use POCUS efficiently and effectively. By using virtual patients, those being trained can be presented with any symptoms and pathologies of many variations. They’re also given the gift of repeatability that real patients can’t provide.
“I think for medical training though, the repeatability and the availability of any symptom, pathology, situation or internal anatomy will make this the preferred training system. There are already libraries available of the models of all the various types of bodies and illnesses. Being able to use a virtual environment for training will just be a natural,” Delaney shares.
AR creates an added benefit layer when medical simulators are used. Some systems use medical simulators and add AR so that the physician, medical student or technician has something to touch while looking through a head-mounted display. They see graphics that look like the ultrasound overlaid on this physical simulator.
Delany foresees AR integration with medical simulators being the wave of POCUS training future. “I suspect it will become the way to train for POCUS. It will probably become part of the actual clinical environment because it enables the imagery to be registered to the actual body. Imagine, you could be looking at a patient and have the image overlaid on the body so that you could actually see inside the patient.”
There’s one more area we’ll find virtualization of training to be a benefit—the ability to replay it. You can record the training experience and go back to review what happened. Similar to how athletes study their play videos. They analyze a game or practice footage to uncover strengths and weaknesses, making them better on the field. The same holds true for a practicing POCUS user. You can replay the training and know where more instruction is required.
There’s been a lot of much-needed talk and research about the practicality and placement of technological advances currently at our front door. No longer are artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality on the horizon. They’re here, ringing our doorbell, and peering through our windows.
One day, POCUS will be in the pockets of anyone related to the medical field and even in the hands of some consumers with limited capacity. Incorporating virtual and augmented reality in how we train POCUS users will revolutionize this already growing movement. It will make such training more accessible and realistically attainable for seasoned technicians and those new to POCUS. Moreover, on the receiving end, the patient will benefit from confident and reliable diagnoses that will inform and improve patient care and communication. Isn’t that why we in the field are here?
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