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Deloitte's Life Sciences & Health Care Blog

Virtual reality is transforming medical education

Medical education is transforming thanks to medical and nursing schools adopting innovations to prepare new clinicians for emerging models of care. In today’s rapidly changing health care system, physicians and care teams require new capabilities to best practice medicine and serve their patients. They must understand value-based payment models, how to operate in a patient-centered system – rather than one centered on the physician – and learn to incorporate new technologies into the practice of medicine.

Virtual reality (VR) is an example of an innovation that medical and nursing schools are adopting. Take surgery, for example. Training future surgeons is expensive, and trainees have limited time and space to witness surgeries to learn techniques first hand. VR can help future surgeons around the world witness best practices.

Residents at Ohio University are able to enhance their emergency training skills through use of a VR trauma bay. This immersive experience lets them walk around a virtual emergency room and view various medical scenarios. Each scenario is created through the use of multiple 360-degree cameras with audio recordings of patients during real-life encounters (which were recorded with their consent). At Stanford University, medical students and residents can put on VR goggles and see inside an infant’s beating heart to explore congenital heart defects. Stanford has prototypes that show the ventricular septal defect and one other type, with a goal of having 25 to 30 of the most common heart defects available for students to explore through VR in the coming months. The long-term goal is to add models for adult heart diseases, and lung and brain diseases.

Students also learn empathy for their patients by using VR to experience what their patients are experiencing. At the University of New England, young students can see what it is like to be a much older patient, with hearing and vision loss. Through VR technology from Embodied Labs, students can sit at a computer, put on a headset, and see the world like a 74-year-old African American male patient with advanced macular degeneration and high-frequency hearing loss. The students experience the family celebrating his birthday, but he cannot see family members without tilting his head to look around the large dark spots at the center of his vision. The birthday singing sounds muffled, and when he tries to speak to the physician, he gets complicated medical information shared with him in a business-like manner. Students who have gone through the scenario say it captures the frustration and helplessness of being in this man’s shoes. In one study, 94 percent of the students reported having increased empathy after the experiment; 92 percent said they had a greater knowledge of macular degeneration; and 90 percent said they had a greater understanding of hearing loss.


Deloitte Global estimated that 2016 marked the first billion-dollar year for VR. With multiple applications in the long term for both consumers and industries, the biggest source of sales is in the consumer market, for video games. But analysts expect the health care segment to grow rapidly in the coming years. As with many technologies, the notion of virtual reality is decades old, but its commercial realization has been subject to the sometimes slow pace of technological progress. Screen and processor technology have only recently improved in terms of price and performance such that VR is commercially viable. In the future, VR could be integrated with technology advances such as artificial intelligence, advanced bio-sensors, and increased computing power.

This weekly series explores innovative breakthroughs and new technologies that are driving momentum and change in the life sciences and health care industry.


Author bio

Doug leads Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice. With 24 years of experience, he works closely with multiple top health care organizations on major clinical and enterprise transformation efforts and on large-scale technology implementation projects. Doug has extensive experience in comprehensive quality and patient safety transformations, turnaround and performance improvement in academic medical centers as well as organization/workflow redesign and technology enablement. He has served as the lead on a number of enterprise transformation initiatives with some of Deloitte’s most largest and most complex clients.