Augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR), realized as head-mounted devices (HMDs), may open up new ways of teaching medical content for low-resource settings. The advantages are that HMDs enable repeated practice without adverse effects on the patient in various medical disciplines; may introduce new ways to learn complex medical content; and may alleviate financial, ethical, and supervisory constraints on the use of traditional medical learning materials, like cadavers and other skills lab equipment.
We examine the effectiveness of AR, MR, and VR HMDs for medical education, whereby we aim to incorporate a global health perspective comprising low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
We conducted a systematic review according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis) and Cochrane guidelines. Seven medical databases (PubMed, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, Science Direct, PsycINFO, Education Resources Information Centre, and Google Scholar) were searched for peer-reviewed publications from January 1, 2014, to May 31, 2019. An extensive search was carried out to examine relevant literature guided by three concepts of extended reality (XR), which comprises the concepts of AR, MR, and VR, and the concepts of medicine and education. It included health professionals who took part in an HMD intervention that was compared to another teaching or learning method and evaluated with regard to its effectiveness. Quality and risk of bias were assessed with the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument, the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale-Education, and A Cochrane Risk of Bias Assessment Tool for Non-Randomized Studies of Interventions. We extracted relevant data and aggregated the data according to the main outcomes of this review (knowledge, skills, and XR HMD).
A total of 27 studies comprising 956 study participants were included. The participants included all types of health care professionals, especially medical students (n=573, 59.9%) and residents (n=289, 30.2%). AR and VR implemented with HMDs were most often used for training in the fields of surgery (n=13, 48%) and anatomy (n=4, 15%). A range of study designs were used, and quantitative methods were clearly dominant (n=21, 78%). Training with AR- and VR-based HMDs was perceived as salient, motivating, and engaging. In the majority of studies (n=17, 63%), HMD-based interventions were found to be effective. A small number of included studies (n=4, 15%) indicated that HMDs were effective for certain aspects of medical skills and knowledge learning and training, while other studies suggested that HMDs were only viable as an additional teaching tool (n=4, 15%). Only 2 (7%) studies found no effectiveness in the use of HMDs.
The majority of included studies suggested that XR-based HMDs have beneficial effects for medical education, whereby only a minority of studies were from LMICs. Nevertheless, as most studies showed at least noninferior results when compared to conventional teaching and training, the results of this review suggest applicability and potential effectiveness in LMICs. Overall, users demonstrated greater enthusiasm and enjoyment in learning with XR-based HMDs. It has to be noted that many HMD-based interventions were small-scale and conducted as short-term pilots. To generate relevant evidence in the future, it is key to rigorously evaluate XR-based HMDs with AR and VR implementations, particularly in LMICs, to better understand the strengths and shortcomings of HMDs for medical education.