Using virtual reality in medical imaging
Diagnostic Radiography students in Medical Imaging at the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health have been using virtual reality (VR) x-ray rooms, allowing them to enhance their clinical skills training by practising techniques learned in their x-ray room sessions.
As a programme educating future healthcare professionals, Medical Imaging has critical programme status, meaning it has continued to run in-person during lockdown restrictions for learning which cannot be delivered remotely.
However, COVID-19 restrictions meant students were not able to access the same valuable mix of on-campus experiences as they would have in previous years, and entering their first placement during a global pandemic meant they needed to be exceptionally well-prepared.
To address this, and with support from Health Education England, the teaching team at St Luke’s campus set up two VR stations using Skilitics Health software. This gives a full 360-degree immersive experience akin to real life radiography, allowing them to practise their patient positioning and radiographic skills to reinforce the in-person teaching they have in the digital x-ray room.
Trying out the new technology
The VR X-Ray Simulation closely resembles the capabilities, look and feel of an x-ray room commonly found in hospitals. The technology has allowed students to familiarise themselves in real time with the layout and features of an x-ray room, enhancing their skills prior to their first clinical placement in hospitals. The system can be tailored to allow multiple students to operate alone or in the same room as other students, while still maintaining social distancing.
Dr Karen Knapp, Associate Professor in Musculoskeletal Imaging at University of Exeter said “We are excited to be one of the first universities in the UK to be working with Skilitics Health to provide this learning opportunity for students. The opportunity to have a safe environment to practise their radiographic technique independently, and to have to undertake the whole imaging process from start to finish on their own, provides a powerful learning tool. The software emails students all the images they’ve taken, along with a report of all the key factors they need to consider so they can reflect on their images and the process and learn from this following the VR session.”
The VR set-up provides feedback on their performance so they can reflect, revise and improve their radiographic technique. This is in addition to the standard teaching for diagnostic radiography students, which includes learning delivered in the digital x-ray room at St Luke’s. The combination of VR, hands-on and academic learning together enhance students’ clinical skills, better preparing them for their first clinical placement.
Whilst the VR sessions have not replaced lab sessions they have been a welcome addition, allowing students to consolidate their learning and learn from others. The students have also been provided with a desktop version of the software which enables them to practise in their own time at home on their PC or laptop.
Ellie Chudley, a first year Diagnostic Radiography student, said:
We’ve been lucky to have been able to attend some of our lab sessions this term even in the current pandemic, these have been supplemented and supported by the VR system and this has been invaluable allowing us to put into practice what we’ve learnt from the lab. The addition of being able to also access the system on our personal laptops has also been of benefit.
The BSc Medical Imaging programme at the University of Exeter is consistently rated as one of the best in the UK and ensures that students have the skills required to successfully embark on a career as a Diagnostic Radiographer and to be eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).