Integration of innovative digital techniques into medical courses for enhanced patient safety

The future begins now - that is the mantra on medical courses at MedUni Vienna and also at the Society for Medical Education (GMA) conference starting in Vienna this coming Wednesday - the largest event on this topic within the German-speaking area. Nowadays technologies such as Virtual Reality, 3D modeling, Big Data and simulation training are increasingly being incorporated into teaching and degree courses or are already in practical use.

As from 2019, Virtual Reality will be an established part of the curriculum at MedUni Vienna. At the same time, supplementary scientific courses will demonstrate the effectiveness of this accompanying measure. Digital and technical aids are already being used, primarily in the pediatric simulation unit of the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, where they are used to simulate pediatric emergencies for interdisciplinary training purposes.

The Head of the project, Michael Wagner from MedUni Vienna's Division of Neonatalogy, Intensive Care Medicine and Neuropediatrics explains that the team leader (or another team member) can wear eye-tracking glasses, so that his/her line of gaze and focus of attention can be recorded for subsequent evaluation: "This allows us to improve procedures and even to check what individual team members are really taking in in this type of emergency situation, so that we can gain an accurate picture of where improvements are needed." Digitization also plays an important role in this area, where technical aids (feedback devices) or the very latest simulation dummies make training exercises much more realistic and efficient.

On the other hand, it is also possible to use Virtual Reality glasses - like in gaming - to make emergencies feel real and also to analyze the individual actions of the participants, where several people can also be interlinked. Says Wagner: "The exercises allow for different levels of difficulty. Moreover, stressors such as loud noises from the A+E unit or distressed parents can be added in to ramp up the pressure in keeping with the participants' level of experience and to practice difficult situations, so that students are forearmed and therefore able to provide the best care to their patients in a real emergency."

Virtual Reality and increasing digitization on courses is only the start, beginning in the 3rd year and ending with continuous training and checking the practical application of learned skills, for example during the clinical practice year. Says Wagner: "Medical simulation enables students to gain experience early on in a protected environment as part of a team, so that their first experience of an emergency is not a real one."

"Digitization" for enhanced patient safety
In dentistry and on dentistry courses, conventional dental impressions using an impression tray are already being increasingly replaced by digital techniques. Using CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing), teeth are optically scanned in the mouth in a contact-free way and the recorded image data used to produce a 3D model. Once the optical impression and the virtual design have been completed, a computer-aided milling machine (CAM) is used to manufacture the denture. In future, similar 3D models will also be used for respiratory tract or venipuncture models. Like Virtual Reality, Big Data is now being incorporated into dentistry courses.

Apart from teaching new techniques, it is also important to reinforce traditional skills, such as communication skills, in medical training: "The integration of innovative digital techniques into medical courses will hopefully prepare our students for their future profession. However, it takes a lot more than that to turn students into good doctors. Apart from learning and practising applied clinical skills, good social and communication skills are also a key part of a good doctor's repertoire. In classes such as e.g. "Doctor-patient interactions with simulated patients" students are able to practice their practical and communication skills, so that they can master difficult conversations and interactions," explains Anita Holzinger, Professor of Curriculum Development at MedUni Vienna and Chair of the GMA Conference.

Michael Wagner also underscores this point: "Simulation training, Virtual Reality, working on 3D models and even interdisciplinary teamwork and communications cannot be considered in isolation - everything has to come together to bring about an increase in patient safety."

State Prize for outstanding teaching
MedUni Vienna is in good shape for the move to Course 4.0, as was evidenced by a prestigious award presented to Medical University lecturers in early 2018: a MedUni Vienna teaching project was awarded the Ars docendi State Prize for outstanding teaching. Those responsible for the project entitled "Echocardiography/Anatomy - Blended Learning" - Thomas Binder, Anahit Anvari-Pirsch, Wolfgang Weninger and Matthias Schneider - won the prize in the category "Digital teaching and learning elements in combination with traditional forms of teaching". Another MedUni Vienna training course, "Interdisciplinary case conferences - compact", was also nominated for the shortlist. Wagner himself won a recognition award for interdisciplinary team training in education at the Austrian Patient Safety Platform's Austrian Patient Safety Awards.

"At the Medical University of Vienna, we are committed to properly equipping our students for this future, which will be characterised by huge technological advances, but not forgetting all the skills that make a good doctor, such as communication skills, a professional attitude and the ability to work in a team," stresses Anita Rieder, Vice Rector for Education at MedUni Vienna.

GMA Conference 2018 in Vienna
The GMA was set up in 1978 as a charitable association of German-speaking teachers and students with the mission of encouraging and supporting medical education and advanced training. Every year, the GMA conference is held in a different city within the D-A-CH area with around 1,200 participants - in 2018, it will take place in the Lecture Center of MedUni Vienna (19 - 22 September/For information: https://gma2018.de). The main theme is "Unity of Research and Teaching" and the imparting of scientific research skills on medical courses. There will also be a new form of interactive discussion: during the individual lectures, it will be possible to ask questions online. These will be collected and addressed by the respective lecturers in a dedicated session.

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