You’re a fourth-year vet student, and it’s day 2 of your rotation at the emergency clinic.
Before you’ve had a chance to grab a coffee, a lethargic German Shepherd in respiratory distress is rushed through the doors. Under the supervision of your instructor, you make quick decisions: Intubate to help him breathe. Manage his pain with the right doses of carprofen or methadone. Complete body examination, ultrasound and x-rays. Listen to his heart and lungs. Does he need emergency surgery?
In a veterinary teaching hospital like Colorado State University, scenarios like this play out in real life. But soon, scenarios like this could also happen in a virtual world, through the safe confines of a headset and a software system.
For four years, an interdisciplinary team of CSU researchers has been investigating whether virtual reality has a role to play in veterinary education and training. And what better than one of the best veterinary schools in the world to find out?
In 2018, clinical science professor Pedro Boscan and a small team received a grant from the American Veterinary Medical Association to create a proof-of-concept virtual reality prototype for an anesthesia machine. Two years later, the team received funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research to launch VetVR, a campus-wide initiative that includes clinicians, computer scientists, graphic designers, and engineers and aims to develop and testing virtual educational tools for veterinary medicine. . VetVR primarily focuses on veterinary apps, but its goals have expanded since its inception.
“As we try to validate virtual reality and its potential in higher education, we want to go beyond veterinary medicine,” said Boscan, who directs the anesthesiology department at James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. . “We want to know what might be useful and what might not be. This is part of the research we did: What are the disadvantages? How much does it cost? How difficult is it? »
At CSU, the VetVR team is part of many virtual and augmented reality-based projects exploring future applications of the technology. For example, another group on campus has developed a virtual reality program to teach human anatomy. The Office of the Vice President, Research has led the expansion of these efforts through a targeted initiative that began in 2017, which has spawned further investments in teaching and research.
Over the past two years, Boscan and the VetVR team have developed a virtual module to train veterinary students in the basics of anesthesiology: how to sedate patients, use an anesthesia machine, administer medication, perform ultrasound urgency and all that goes into reality. life medicine. Their goal is to create a virtual environment that is almost identical to classroom and clinic training. One day, such a virtual tool could complement classroom equipment, making training accessible to many more students and remotely.
Their efforts are occurring concurrently with an overall overhaul of CSU’s DVM program, as well as expanded facilities. Major updates expected over the next few years include more hands-on surgical experience, greater focus on problem solving and decision making, and stronger training in increasingly complex medical systems. The VetVR team believes that virtual reality has the potential to be part of the modernized suite of educational tools, not only for veterinary medicine, but also for disciplines that require cognitive and manual skills to solve complex problems.
Virtual veterinary anesthesia
At the end of the semester last spring, the VetVR team tested its latest virtual reality tool by recruiting students to voluntarily take an anesthesiology exam in the virtual setting. These same students also took the exam the traditional way in the classroom, assessed in person by their human instructors. A research team collected data on students’ experiences and compared their performance on both types of exams.
Lynn Keets is a third-year DVM student who collected data from students who received anesthesiology training in the virtual setting. She presented these findings at the International Symposium on Veterinary Emergencies and Critical Care in San Antonio in September, and most recently at the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia Annual Summit in Portland, Oregon.
Keets and the team found that virtual reality increased cognitive load for the exam. Virtual reality was new to 70% of students surveyed, so the learning curve was a performance factor, and the virtual setting might have added some complexity to the tested hardware. However, Boscan said, virtual reality eliminates the subjectivity of a professor administering the exam in real life. “What we know for sure is that teachers are nice and computers are not nice,” Boscan said.
Keets said she thinks next generations of learners may be more open to virtual technologies like the ones she and the team have explored. “I think it offers a new approach, a different system of learning pedagogy… Not everyone is suited to sit in a classroom, so in that way it adds value” , she said.
The research is helping to determine if virtual reality could be a useful tool for educating veterinarians. In its next phase of work, the VetVR team will continue to expose student volunteers to the virtual anesthesia module. This year, they plan to put their virtual tool through an even more rigorous test. “We will train them in virtual reality and examine them with a real machine,” Boscan said.
Moving into the play area
While working on veterinary and anesthesia projects, the team dreams bigger – and it goes back to the dying German Shepherd scenario. Along with their research, the team also enlisted coders and developers to create a virtual reality game that allows players to “treat” a patient in a veterinary clinic, providing opportunities for complex decision-making and medical outcomes for patients.
The VetVR game will soon be available via SteamVR as part of a game studio the team has named Liekos. The researchers hope that public attention will help them refine the software and improve it for further use in educational settings. Their plan is to launch other products through Liekos Studio, such as a VR app for mental health.
Cyane Tornatzky, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History and a VetVR collaborator, is energized by the team’s translational application of an emerging technology.
“In electronic art, we have this long history of things like interactive kiosks, websites as art forms, and this idea that video games can have serious content,” Tornatzky said.
The team was also able to hire some of Tornatzky’s students, who have the skills to translate electronic art into cutting-edge technology. “It was fun, innovative and challenging,” she said.
The game was created for anyone – not just vet students – to practice basic vet skills, like examining a patient, administering prescriptions, making diagnoses, and ultimately saving the dog’s life. It is closer to the team’s goal of creating a high-stakes emergency scenario for use in clinical training, as it reflects the consequences of real-world decision-making.
Preparing vets for work
In an emergency, or even in an outpatient veterinary clinic, one wrong decision can spell disaster. But that’s exactly why Boscan and others think virtual veterinary training could help vets be better prepared for the job.
“For a long time I researched how to recreate the stress of being in clinics,” Boscan said. “If you’re in an emergency, you need to learn how to manage stress and make important decisions.”
In healthcare settings – human and animal – students have traditionally been trained in rotations, carefully monitored by mentors, and thrown into real-life scenarios as they walk through the doors. Nothing replaces the experience of working on a real patient, Boscan said, and it will continue.
But what if there was a way to closely recreate these experiences, outside of the high stakes of real life? Virtual training could be the answer. This would also ensure repeatability. A hundred different scenarios could be practiced 100 times by the same student. That kind of repeatability doesn’t exist in real life, Boscan said.
The team continues its quest to explore, validate and innovate around virtual education. They recently secured a grant from the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety where they will develop a prototype training module for dairy farmers on the use of proper personal protective equipment. Through their work, the researchers will continue their assessment of virtual reality and cognitive load: how much information can a user handle at any given time, and how to optimize learning.
To raise awareness of their work and inspire future vets, the team will make their vet clinic app available for free at CSU’s new Spur campus in Denver, which features a new virtual reality lab in the Vida building.
Work like this and the continued development of anesthesiology and veterinary clinic training metrics will provide the team with a better understanding of evaluating new technologies for the next generation of healthcare workers.
“We’re starting with veterinary medicine, but we believe virtual reality will be part of the future of education,” Boscan said.
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