Technology offers virtual medical experiences

13 December 2012

Medical practitioners and audiologists will be able to train on virtual patients following new technology developed by UC's HIT Lab NZ.

Technology offers virtual medical experiences

UC doctoral student Alexandre Heitz.

Medical practitioners and audiologists will be able to train on virtual patients following new technology developed by UC’s Human Interface Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ).

PhD student Alexandre Heitz developed the interactive computer program, based on a platform designed by the University of Florida, that allows trainee audiologists and medical practitioners to practise their medical skills in a virtual environment through interactive, clinic-styled sessions with ill patients. 

“It’s a good way to practise your skills safely and for the trainee to gain some confidence before being face to face with a patient,” he said.

“The idea was to reproduce a virtual environment with the same type of interaction they would do in the clinic with all the different procedures they have to train on with a wide range of different clinical scenarios and pathologies.

“The idea is that the student goes through different scenarios asking the patient questions to get specific information, undertake tests and come to a conclusion on their conditions.”

Alex said his research, which has been done in collaboration with the CPIT nursing school, Christchurch Hospital and UC’s audiology and communications disorders and health sciences departments, aims to use computer simulation to improve medical practitioners’ learning.

The project falls into two sections: a simulation for student audiology practitioners with more than 25 pathologies; and a separate simulation for medical practitioners such as trainee nurses or doctors based on one rapidly deteriorating patient with multiple outcomes based on the actions taken during the simulation.

“The audiology platform has been so successful with a three-week trial showing a dramatic rise in improvement on those using the simulator and it will be used at UC in classrooms for audiology students next year. However, the medical practitioner simulation has been tested with CPIT staff but is not yet ready for classrooms,” he said.

Alex said one advantage of this platform was that common medical simulations, whether they were done with mannequins or actors, were resource intensive to run whereas this programme was more autonomous.

Jonathan Grady (Communication Disorders) said the simulator was a useful resource for students.

“The audiology simulator was a useful resource for letting students practise the diagnostic processes they need to utilise in order to determine the hearing and ear-health status of a client, and to be able to differentially diagnose the underlying causes of hearing loss from an extensive range of different pathologies,” he said.

“As the simulator is entirely computer based, it allows the student to practise at virtually any time of the day, without needing to recruit real clients into the clinic, and allows the students to proceed at their own pace. It also allows students to gain experience with recognising peculiar symptoms or rare pathologies that they may never get to otherwise see in their real clinical experiences over the course of our two year master’s programme.”


For more information please contact:
Renee Jones
Communications Officer
Communications and External Relations
University of Canterbury


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