5 Ways VR Is Improving Healthcare Training

Dec 12, 2021

Our last post was so popular that we decided to do a closer look at VR in healthcare education, and have included some resources at the end for reference!


In the past decade, virtual reality (VR) has gone from a niche technology reserved for enthusiasts to a consumer good that can be found in millions of households across the US and worldwide, including  devices like the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive. In 2018, over 34.6 million people in the United States interacted with VR at least once a month[1]. While this paradigm shift in VR prevalence is normally associated with gaming, many researchers and corporations have dedicated extensive time and resources to adapt the promise of VR into real-world applications. Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare and healthcare education.


Educating medical professionals has never been isolated in the classroom; hands-on experience has always been a part of the curriculum. In many medical professions, this first takes in the form of simulations. These simulations range from performing surgery on cadavers to practicing CPR on mannikins. Technological advancements have led to substantial innovations in these simulations, but the inherent limitations have left the door open for new training modalities.


VR is the new frontier of medical education simulation and is spurring a paradigm shift in the field. This article will address 5 ways in which VR is revolutionizing medical education as a tool for training future and present medical caregivers.

1. VR Provides Highly Immersive Simulation

A primary advantage of VR is the same reason gaming enthusiasts have embraced the technology: immersion. VR circumvents the suspension of disbelief needed when training on other kinds of simulations. Even the most complex manikins are grounded in physical reality and are limited in the amount and complexity of systems that they can simulate. With VR, the complexity of the simulation is only limited by the imagination of the design team. Situations that are difficult to simulate, like disaster medicine, can be explored in much further depth in VR [2], and one study has shown that immersive VR training matched the effectiveness of in-person learning in communication team training [3].

2. VR Simulations Can Be Customized

Early in the life cycle of new technology, the door is open for customizability. This is well illustrated in VR. Software for VR medical training is designed with specific applications in mind and can often be customized before each session. Some software suites like SimX provide in-depth moderator tools that allow educators to control details of the case as it plays out in real-time.

3. VR is More Affordable Than Other Forms of Sim

While one can’t put a price on good health, there is very much a cost to effective medical training. Healthcare simulations can be expensive.  Senvisky et al. estimate that the cost of running a single central line training simulation per month with ten learners could cost up to $64,050 per year [4]. VR can substantially reduce these costs, as the average consumer-grade stand-alone VR headset costs in the range of $300-700 dollars and doesn’t require consumables or a dedicated space for use[5]. Many VR medical training programs include free cases, and with a growing user base, an increase in open-source training scenarios seems likely in the near future.

4. VR Enables and Enriches the Remote Learning Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance and necessity of remote learning in medical education, but it also revealed many of its inherent limitations [6, 7].  immersive VR is more effective than screen-based learning and can supplement or replace traditional remote instructing with minimal additional costs, ensuring continuity of high-quality education in uncertain conditions [8]. As well, traditional simulations require the physical presence of learners, limiting participation to geographical restraints. Multiplayer VR experiences can sidestep this limitation and allow care providers from across the world to learn together [9].  This has the added benefit of making niche medical simulations more viable for instructors, as training for a rarer condition may require extensive travel and incur high fees.

5. VR Can Take Advantage of Cloud-Based Education

In-person learning requires physical materials and is limited by access to these items. VR learning solutions only require a reasonable internet connection to acquire, and it is not uncommon for VR medical simulation packages like SimX to have an online marketplace where training scenarios can be purchased. VR is also beginning to tap into the power of cloud computing. With cloud computing, VR headsets could run simulations with greater complexity and visual fidelity with no changes to hardware, sidestepping the limitations of dedicated standalone headsets.

  1. Vailshery, L.S. Virtual reality and augmented reality users U.S. 2017-2022 2021  [cited 2021; Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1017008/united-states-vr-ar-users/.
  2. Duan, Y.Y., et al., Application of Virtual Reality Technology in Disaster Medicine. Curr Med Sci, 2019. 39(5): p. 690-693.
  3. Liaw, S.Y., et al., Nurse-Physician Communication Team Training in Virtual Reality Versus Live Simulations: Randomized Controlled Trial on Team Communication and Teamwork Attitudes. J Med Internet Res, 2020. 22(4): p. e17279.
  4. Senvisky, J.M., R.T. McKenna, and Y. Okuda, Financing And Funding A Simulation Center, in StatPearls. 2021: Treasure Island (FL).
  5. Haerling, K.A., Cost-Utility Analysis of Virtual and Mannequin-Based Simulation. Simul Healthc, 2018. 13(1): p. 33-40.
  6. Tabatabai, S., COVID-19 impact and virtual medical education. J Adv Med Educ Prof, 2020. 8(3): p. 140-143.
  7. Rajab, M.H., A.M. Gazal, and K. Alkattan, Challenges to Online Medical Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Cureus, 2020. 12(7): p. e8966.
  8. Gutierrez, F., et al., The effect of degree of immersion upon learning performance in virtual reality simulations for medical education. Stud Health Technol Inform, 2007. 125: p. 155-60.
  9. Pottle, J., Virtual reality and the transformation of medical education. Future Healthc J, 2019. 6(3): p. 181-185.
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