The university’s virtual reality platform signifies academic and industry synergy in confronting IR4.0 in teaching medicine.
The faculty of Medicine at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) recently launched a Virtual Reality (VR) system to educate and teach budding medical professionals on medical disorders via a simulation platform allowing for revisions in a controlled environment.
This project was in conjunction with a grant contributed by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to increase the use of virtual reality and simulations in teaching medicine.
The project highlights a significant collaborative effort between university and industry, i.e. between UKM and Integrasi Erat Sdn Bhd, focusing on the pioneering development of VR-based healthcare modules for training, diagnostics and therapy. The faculties involved in this trailblazing endeavour are the medical and dental faculties and the Industrial Revolution 4.0 Institute of UKM.
VR is fundamentally not a new tool in technology. Still, with the advent of IR4.0, VR has taken centre stage, particularly in relation to creative multimedia as a modality with great potential. In Malaysia, VR development is very much in its infancy, with much untapped benefits, especially in the healthcare field, in stark contrast with VR development in gaming, engineering, architecture and aviation.
The progress of VR in healthcare is currently way behind these other areas, even globally, what more in a developing nation like Malaysia. In an attempt to close this gap, academics from UKM have combined efforts with IESB to win an RM1 million MESTECC Research and Development grant in early 2020 to develop modules primarily for the purpose of healthcare training.
The journey was long and arduous, starting in early 2019, but worth it. The three initial modules focused on disaster response, cataract surgery and ankle arthroplasty. Since then, further inroads have been made to utilise VR in training, diagnosis and therapy in the clinical specialties of obstetrics, maxillofacial surgery, and psychiatry.
Upholding patient safety
VR is particularly useful and economical in the long run in rehearsing or repetitive training of skills that are complicated, uncommon but vital and impactful, or expensive and laborious to train, such as complicated surgery or disaster response.
It also significantly enhances immersiveness in the training process, and upholds patient safety, as no real patient or human being needs to be involved in training newbies.
Trainer and trainee safety is also maintained in a non-threatening environment without the anxiety of committing mistakes that can have real-life repercussions. Although not all procedures in healthcare may be suitable for conversion to VR-based training modules, the spectrum of possible development is vast and almost limitless.
Besides clinical procedures, health system management routines that require intensive and repetitive practice can also be subjected to VR-based training. This was evident during the recent Covid-19 pandemic, in the form of frontliner basic standard operating procedures, such as PPE donning and doffing, swab taking, and blood tests, as well as resuscitative, anaesthetic, surgical and obstetric procedures.
VR-based training removes the necessity for healthcare workers to gather in proximity in large groups and can even be conducted remotely online, hence preventing violation of social distancing. Cost reduction is obvious, as no consumables or disposables need to be used in the VR-based training process, therefore offsetting the cost of developing the modules themselves in the long term, which currently may be substantial.
Nonetheless, with continued innovation in the technicalities of VR, even the cost of development may eventually decline, as with many other technological gadgets seen today, such as the smartphone. Healthcare subject matter experts now have the opportunity to flex their creativity to the utmost in designing various VR-based modules hand-in-hand with VR technopreneurs.
The UKM-IESB conjoined synergy was led by IESB as the project leader, guided by Professor Dr Ismail Mohd Saiboon as the lead researcher from UKM. Other researchers in the team are Prof Dr Zaleha Abdullah Mahdy, Prof Dr Mohd Yazid Bajuri, Assoc Prof Dr Mushawiahti Mustapha, Assoc Prof Dr Mohammad Nazir Ahmad, Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Nazimi Abd Jabar, Assoc Prof Dr Ixora Kamisan Atan, and Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Isa, in a multi-faculty multi-specialty collaboration. These researchers represent two large research groups in UKM – the Medical Education and Simulation Research (MESRe) group and the Health Technology Innovation Laboratory (HTIL@UKM).
Maximising its potential
The grant obtained enabled the purchase of the latest version of Virtalis Active-Move worth RM1.2 million with contribution from IESB. IESB has generously transferred ownership of the equipment to UKM, officialised in a modest ceremony on Nov 11, 2022.
The equipment now resides in HTIL@UKM, where healthcare subject matter experts and IESB technical experts can meet to discuss VR-based module development, as production of such modules require close working relationship among various experts.
This is instrumental in accelerating the synthesis of an increasing number of modules in the healthcare-VR library that is gradually being populated. This strategic logistic arrangement is essential to expedite development in view of the busy schedule of healthcare workers. The VR contents that are thus built are targeted to be industry-ready and market-ready, not mere academic outputs.
Prof Dr Ismail Mohd Saiboon emphasised that the use of simulation in healthcare through VR technology should be explored not just for academic purposes, but also for translation into the new norm in clinical practice in facing contemporary healthcare challenges. The UKM healthcare-VR core team demonstrated VR utility in this field to encourage other members of the fraternity to expand its application to maximise its potential.
Assoc Prof Dr Mohammad Nazir explained that the project involved various levels of development. Besides purely academic benefits, the endeavour also aimed to empower the university by attracting industrial grants for further expansion of research in this area. Part of the roadmap of this team is to build a VR marketplace for the commercialisation of VR-based healthcare products.
Internationally, the healthcare modules produced so far through the UKM-IESB joint venture have captured the attention of the management of Virtalis United Kingdom, who view the contents as on par with world standards, with the possibility of IESB playing the unique role of co-marketing the products with them.
The landscape of healthcare education and training is at the threshold of a remarkable turning point in the context of IR4.0 and Education 4.0 to further empower healthcare quality of service and close the accessibility gap. – The Health
This article was contributed by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Center.