The University of Texas Medical Branch opened the doors to its Health Education Center in 2019. The five-story facility boasts 161,000 square feet of training space including 77 simulated patient beds. The HEC provides human, non-human (i.e., mannequins) and VR simulations to train students from five different healthcare schools across the University.
Simulations are used to augment the academic curriculum and deliver the highest quality education possible. As such, the HEC is tasked with improving access to simulation – at a convenient location.
Today, the HEC is piloting a new addition to its educational toolset: extended reality (XR) provided by Virti. XR is an overarching term used to describe immersive learning technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
Two exemplary simulations the HEC offers include the “Patient Safety Room” and medical interview with a virtual patient, which has been given the non-descript nickname “Mike White.”
The patient safety room simulation provides students with the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in a classroom. Students put on a VR headset, enter the patient safety room and attempt to identify these and other hazards. When the exercise is complete, the whole class collectively debriefs with their professor to discuss what they saw – or didn’t see.
The second simulation offered is a medical interview with “Mike White.” Mike White is an avatar powered by generative artificial intelligence (AI). It speaks in 20 different languages and can be made to look like any ethnicity, gender or background for which the curriculum calls.
There’s also a physical examination component. Students are required to check vital signs, such as measuring the patient’s blood pressure, taking their temperature, listening to their heart and lungs – and even conducting a capillary refill – during the simulation.
XR's biggest benefits have been providing accessibility and convenience to students. Students gain simulated clinical experience they would not receive otherwise. Both students and faculty have requested the simulations be conducted earlier in the semester, so they have that experience when they do finally get to a clinic. While the program is still in the pilot phase, the HEC has trained about 1,000 students from across five schools within the university system.