Dr. Irene Ma and our research team are working with Edmonton-based company, Scope AR to bring augmented reality into the medical education curriculum.

You can read this story and many more in the Fall 2016 issue of UCalgary Medicine Magazine.

October 27, 2016
By Julia MacGregor, Fall 2016 issue of UCalgary Medicine Magazine.

This past summer, a mobile gaming app called Pokèmon Go became a worldwide phenomenon.  The app encourages users to catch cute pocket monsters that appear in the real world through their phone screens. This new game is a simple example of augmented reality technology (AR), which uses a person’s view of their physical environment and through dynamic computer mapping, overlays visual information on top of it.

Dr. Irene Ma (PhD’15) has a different vision for AR outside of gaming. She wants to take this technology into the medical school and residency training program, to train the next generation of physicians to insert a central venous line correctly and safely.

“We know that simulation-based education improves outcomes in central venous catheterization (CVC),” says Ma, associate professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and faculty member in the university’s Ward of the 21st Century (W21C), O’Brien Institute for Public Health. “As educators, studies have found that we unintentionally miss teaching 50 to 70 per cent of elements to learners by accidently skipping steps and omitting explanations.”

Inserting a central venous line is a complicated and time-consuming procedure that can take up to four hours or more to teach. In the United States alone, physicians insert more than 5 million central lines every year to allow medication delivery, nutritional support and the measurement of blood flow within the body’s organs and tissues. They are necessary to care delivery, but there are numerous risks to patients if this procedure is performed incorrectly. The procedure involves inserting a catheter into a patient’s internal jugular vein, which requires physicians to simultaneously operate a needle and an ultrasound machine.

Ma and W21C have been working with Edmonton-based company, Scope AR, to build the medical education content for the CVC procedure into an augmented reality application. After donning a pair of special glasses that contain an outward-facing camera, learners can see their real-world surroundings overlaid with instructional content and images, and then go step-by-step through the procedure with a task-trainer mannequin.

Perceived benefits of the finalized augmented reality application will be the ability to deliver a standardized curriculum and a user-based “education on-demand.”  “Rather than any one individual holding up a small group of learners to master a certain step, each learner may go at his or her own pace to practice and develop the skill,” says Ma.

W21C researchers are currently working with Scope AR on evaluating the different iterations of the CVC application through a variety of methods. After the application is finalized, next steps are to bring this technology into the Cumming School of Medicine’s Post Graduate Medical Education Program and evaluate its effectiveness with real medical learners.

If there is supporting evidence that augmented reality can effectively teach a complicated procedure such as CVC, this technology could then be used to teach learners a wide array of bedside procedures and aid in reducing faculty teaching demands.

“The field of augmented reality is completely new territory for me,” says Ma. “To work with the W21C team and Scope AR in translating the educational content into this application is very exciting.”