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Abbott launches flagship Imaging Technology VR Training Program for Cardiologists


The global healthcare leader announce the release of their first Virtual Reality training program that aims to fundamentally change how cardiologists are trained in using imaging technology.

Abbott launches flagship Imaging Technology VR Training Program for Cardiologists


"This is an opportunity to get people up to speed, to know what they are looking for, what they are going to be measuring and how they are going to go about doing things before they actually have to do it for real."
Dr Nick West, Abbott's Chief Medical Officer



Global healthcare leader Abbott have announced the release of their first Virtual Reality training program, powered by Oculus Go™, aiming to fundamentally change how cardiologists are trained in using Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) imaging technology. Through combining traditional training techniques with Virtual Reality (VR), Abbott aims to significantly increase the expertise in using OCT to improve patient outcomes. Unlike ultrasound, which uses sound waves, OCT is a technology that uses light to allow physicians to see coronary artery disease from inside the blood vessel, just as if they were looking under a microscope, which can significantly enhance treatment decisions.

With over 100,000 colleagues in more than 160 countries and a portfolio of healthcare technologies spanning diagnostics and medical devices, Abbott is a global healthcare leader helping people live more fully at all stages of life. To find out more about their OCT training program, we spoke to Dr. Nick West, Abbott’s Chief Medical Officer and Divisional Vice President of Global Medical Affairs.

“This is a very useful application of VR technology that has been available in the gaming world for a while and the ability to harness what’s been developed and repurpose it for training on medical technology is a great opportunity. “ explains Dr West.

“A great tenet of medical training in the UK is ‘see one, do one, teach one’ – it’s something you’re taught at medical school. Of course, if you’re a doctor that’s fine but if you’re a patient you don’t really want to be the ‘do’ one after they’ve only ‘seen’ one. This technology offers the opportunity for people to learn a lot more about techniques before they are applied to a human being.”

Through the expansion of its training portfolio, Abbott aims to help more physicians gain greater exposure to imaging and diagnostic tools such as OCT that will drastically improve their decision-making abilities. Utilizing Virtual Reality represents a significant leap forward in training as it provides physicians with the full experience of being in a real catheterization laboratory.

“In the rather experiential way that cardiologists and physicians in general learn, often the first time you really know what you’re doing is when you’re actually doing it. So, this is an opportunity to really get people up to speed and to know what they are looking for, what they are going to be measuring, how they are going to go about doing things ‘before’ they actually have to do it for real.” explains Dr West.

Training remains critical to ensuring physicians are fully utilizing technologies that drive better clinical outcomes for patients and, according to Abbott research, utilizing VR in training improved cath lab staff learning engagement by 45% and knowledge retention by 72%.

“One of the barriers to the uptake of imaging technologies is people and if you can actually take them through the technologies without forcing them just to sit and watch a presentation and get them to interact and learn as they go – that’s a really great opportunity to see some cases virtually and then you get away from ‘see one, do one, teach one’ and, instead, you are enabling people to get much more experience and a feel for the technology before they are confronted with the first case they have to do.” explains Dr West.

“If you’re reading or watching something, it’s very easy not to pay attention, but if you are in a virtual world you need to interact with the features in order for anything to happen at all. So, it does require engagement from the operator, but that engagement is what results in the improved knowledge retention.”

Abbot’s training program is based on the experience of Richard A. Shlofmitz, M.D., FACC, chairman of cardiology at St. Francis Hospital, The Heart Center, and the success he found in translating new training concepts into improvements in patient care.

“Users can interact and watch cases being performed to learn about how to do things, they can watch instructional videos and undertake quizzes. We are constantly trying to expand the amount of information that is available. It is a very interactive experience and it’s not like being lectured to or having to read a document, it really is a post-millennial experience. “ explains Dr West.

Of course, not all physicians around the world have access to the very best training in the use of state-of the art imaging technology. The distinct advantage of adopting Virtual Reality is that it can eliminate barriers to cardiology training, thereby helping to improve cardiovascular health for patients worldwide.

“We think that this is a major step forward in reducing the barriers to the use of technologies like this. It’s virtual training that allows people to interact with all these different functions without actually being in the middle of a procedure with a live patient. “ explains Dr West.

“It enables interaction for almost anyone anywhere which could enable wider dissemination of this kind of technology. It offers the opportunity for anyone to learn, they don’t have to travel, they don’t have to go to a congress, it really would be a plug-and-play experience where you can watch it and then do it.”

Virtual reality-based training programs in healthcare are the way of the future. In launching their new program, Abbott is leveraging technology that has already been found to significantly increase the training success of physicians. Through the use of a hand controller and VR Goggles, the Oculus Go platform allows a physician to observe real-world cases in a 360° environment just as if they were in a real cath lab.

“Virtual Reality is the first step. It allows people to interact with a digital environment and it’s perfectly suited to training. We can provide better training for physicians in less time and for less cost than traditional programs. The next step on from this will be to consider other approaches such as Augmented Reality that will allow you to see what other people are seeing and to interact with their world. We’re looking now at how we can train people and then subsequently looking at how we can interact with them.” explains Dr West.

Over 600,000 Americans die from heart disease each year and it is the leading cause of death in the United States. Abbott’s new VR-based training programs can dramatically enhance decision-making for those physicians all over the world who utilize OCT and, from that, Abbott’s goal is to improve outcomes for patients.

“The bottom line is that we’re trying to improve things for patients and if we can encourage people to use imaging tools like OCT that are going to be derive better and more accurate procedures for patients and therefore improve their outcomes, that is really the key.”

To discover more, read Dr Nick West’s article Bringing the cath lab to the doctor through virtual reality training for OCT.

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