Technology – a threat or an opportunity?
Technology – a threat or an opportunity? Discussions on this matter are very active and heated, and will most likely continue this way for the time being. However, technologies offer new opportunities – to complete something quicker and more effectively. The main threat is to the status quo because there must be changes. Exonicus continues to help change the thinking of medical students and professionals, offering never before seen solutions. But, technology also has its limits – it cannot accomplish everything at the moment.
When the company Exonicus began work on the creation of modern medical training materials, it came to the conclusion how little the latest technologies are actually utilized within the medical world. Now, the company has taken a step forward by creating simulations for the U.S. Army using opportunities provided by virtual reality.
Participating in this project is also Jevgēnijs Kravčuks, a lecturer at the Skills and Medical Technology of the Riga Stradiņš University’s Medical Education Technology Center. He has obtained a qualification as an emergency medical doctor and has been working in this sphere for the past 10 years. Exonicus initially teamed up with the doctor due to his interest in medical simulations involving various injuries.
“Two years ago in Bern, Switzerland, I witnessed how medics tended to trauma patients and how simulations were used in hospitals – I saw the everyday work of the hospital, where also live simulations with actors were played out. In regards to simulations, the Bern University Hospital is way ahead of the rest, as they even involve actors who play the relatives of patients. For example, in one of the scenarios, the situation was played out when a patient has died and someone has to inform a relative of this news. Simulations are very beneficial, as any scenario can be played out, and most importantly without stress. When you have already played out such a scenario in the past, then you have the confidence that you will be able to do so in a real-life situation and prevent a lethal outcome,” Jevgēnijs explains the role simulations in the daily activities of medics.
Virtual reality offers different feelings to the user. The simulation created by Exonicus gives medical personnel four minutes to successfully transport a mine explosion victim to a hospital without dying. Such simulations are an excellent way to train medical personnel or help them maintain their skills. Furthermore, through virtual reality, it is possible to quickly add to scenarios and model body injuries suffered by a specific patient. This is a time-consuming process in real-life simulations, as the injuries must actually be physically replaced. However, in virtual reality, the created scenario and its algorithm can be repeated again and again. Medics can also go through situations which in real life may be very rare, but the doctor will be prepared just in case. At the same time, it is possible for beginners to go through a simpler scenario, while for more experienced colleague two patients can be placed next to one another to make the process more complicated.
“Put on special glasses, and you are immediately into a situation. Just like in real life – you are sitting by the computer and you suddenly get a call out to a scene. I have to react immediately and do not have time to prepare,” explains Jevgēnijs. “With virtual reality glasses, it is easy to train many medics at the same time. A real-life scenario needs preparation, then the implementation process which is followed by an analysis. Just the implementation process takes up about 40 minutes. Here we can play out as many scenarios as we have glasses. We are also not restricted by a lack of space. It is easy to imitate, for example, an airplane catastrophe – we do not need to hire a field, people, and we do not have to hand out to each person individually written scenarios.”
However, a simulator cannot completely replace reality at the moment. Many people still get motion sickness when using virtual reality glasses. At the same time, the technology is not developed to the level to go through a human body, as is the case in this simulator, which in the physical environment would not be possible at all.
However, technology developers continue to move forward. One of the simulator’s authors and co-owner of Exonicus Jānis Kondrāts explains: “We are actively working on the creation of realistic experience, including the addition of sound which also helps in creating a realistic feeling. I think that within the next few years this virtual reality experience will improve. Furthermore, 5G data will be available soon, which will allow streaming of this experience from afar. This means that a computer will not be necessary anymore which is connected with the glasses. All activities will take place on servers faster than on the fastest gaming computers available at the moment. This is called cloud-based rendering. This will help create the realistic feeling,” Jānis believes.
However fast or realistic technologies become, Jevgēnijs emphasizes that at least in medicine nothing will replace the importance of practical training and education in the near future. “Virtual reality is training for the mind, as it does not teach any practical skills. For example, in order to place a neck brace on a simulator, all you do is go and place it on. In reality, it must be measured, adapted…that is a big difference. In practical medicine, one must work both with the mind and with their hands,” Jevgēnijs explains. “It is completely normal for many doctors to never have seen a patient with a serious injury and much blood. Or a seriously injured child. And suddenly they must figure out how to assist them. But if this doctor has played out such a scenario and remembers this process, then his further activities are with less stress.”