‘Virtual’ medical training
Medical and tech experts in Wales have worked together to develop a virtual training device which can allow medics to ‘touch’ a patient, even if they are thousands of miles apart.
Specialists at the Centre of Excellence in Mobile and Emerging Technologies (CEMET), which is based at the University of South Wales (USW), have been working with Cardiff-based Advanced Medical Simulation Online (AMSO) on developing a proof-of-concept for the remote technology.
If it is proved to work successfully, the technology will revolutionise AMSO’s ability to offer remote training to users across the globe.
Professor Nazar Amso, Chief Executive of AMSO, explained the challenges.
“The business was established in 2015 to support skills training for healthcare professionals, with many using our resources from across the globe. This included people in the Bahamas, Middle East, Fiji, and New Zealand, who can access the training remotely day and night,” he said.
“While we covered the knowledge and were able to assess if they knew what was being taught, we were unable to assess if the ‘hands-on’ parts of the training has been adequately understood unless the students were able to attend at our simulation centre in Cardiff – which would obviously be costly for students living thousands of miles away.
“This limitation was further accentuated during the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it had on students accessing clinical training in their own place of work. So, we needed to develop a system which could allow the students to prove their skills through immersive virtual reality.”
Having spoken to Business Wales for support, AMSO was referred to specialists at CEMET for help in developing the system which could bring together several users in remote locations, and also offer them the ability to interact with objects in the virtual space using specially-designed gloves that offer the sensation of feel, vibration, and resistance to touch.
“Being introduced to CEMET was a transformational moment in the company’s history,” Professor Amso said.
“Working remotely with them over eight months, we were able to outline our vision, goals, and expectation from the collaboration. We then provided the CEMET team with clinical scenarios that, in the virtual environment, would demonstrate a proof of concept of our vision.
“This was then turned into a clinical scenario in the virtual environment which looked at what help was needed by a cyclist who had suffered a fall and was taken to an emergency unit with shoulder pain.”
Through the technology, those undertaking the training were able to discuss the injury with the patient, carry out physical examinations, then operate an ultrasound machinery correctly and produce a scan – all remotely and with relevant feedback and advice from the trainer. This could be done individually, or as part of a group.
AMSO has set up a dedicated company – Metaverse Education and Training Applications Ltd – META Learning – to further develop the concept and is looking for investment to be able to take the system to market.
Professor Amso is full of praise for the support CEMET has offered.
“Our collaboration with CEMET team has been very fulfilling. Rewarding; enjoyable; satisfying; gratifying; and, above all, realising our goal in demonstrating the potential of immersive virtual reality environment in remote learning and acquisition of skills in a healthcare environment,” he said.
Clayton Jones, who is Programme Manager at CEMET, said the work with AMSO is another example of how the Centre’s tech specialists can bring an entrepreneur’s vision to life.
“Since CEMET was established in 2016 we have helped dozens of small companies in Wales to develop unique projects, ranging from specialist eye testing for toddlers, TV avatars to help with children’s education, and monitoring potholes on roads, to helping to ensure railway workers are safe, developing specialist drumkits for musicians through an app, and helping sports commentators to get real-time data on the players in front of them.
“AMSO’s vision fitted perfectly with our strategy and expertise, and we are delighted that the business is going from strength to strength as a result of the partnership.”
CEMET enables eligible SMEs to access funded collaborative research & development via a unique three stage R&D process, which transforms an innovative idea into a high-quality product. The process ensures that entrepreneurs are best placed to capitalise on the collaboration, with the aim of stimulating business growth.
CEMET is based at the University of South Wales, within the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Science, and is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Welsh Government.