As virtual reality (VR) improves and becomes more accessible, efforts have been taken to utilize VR in medical training. A new study published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling investigated effective communication between medical students and virtual humans in various scenarios.

‘MPathic-VR’, developed by Medical Cyberworlds, facilitates a real time conversation with emotive and reactive virtual humans. The technology is able to examine body language, facial expression and communication strategies. 

The researchers approached their study with the belief that communication is the most important part of a doctor-patient relationship. “Finding an effective way to assess and teach advanced health care communication skills has been a long-standing challenge,” said study co-author Michael Fetters, MD. “Medical learners have a great need for practical, innovative methods to help them master the complexities of health care communication and develop excellent communication skills – both verbal and nonverbal. Ours is the first-ever research showing that it can be done effectively with virtual reality.”

The trial randomized 421 medical students to either the MPathic-VR (n=210) or traditional computer-based learning (n=211) and compared scores on the advanced communication skills objective structured clinical examination (OSCE).

Results showed that the students in the MPathic-VR group had significantly higher composite scores for OSCE compared to the computer-based learning students. Improvements were also noted for the second attempt at each scenario for the MPathic-VR group. Additionally, the VR group reported more positive experiences citing the programs immediate feedback for understanding how they are being perceived by patients.

The authors concluded that VR can be used as an effective method of training, “advanced communication skills and enabling knowledge transfer into a more realistic clinical situation.”

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Disclosure: The study’s lead author Frederick Kron, serves as president of Medical Cyberworlds Inc. and co-author Michael Fetters has stock options in Medical Cyberworlds Inc.