Clemson-developed “virtual patient” a medical education game changer

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CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA-TV) – 79-year-old “Bob” isn’t doing too well. He’s in the “hospital” with pain in his chest and breathing is hard. He’s tired, wheezing, and a little gruff.

Of course, “Bob” isn’t real. He’s a “virtual patient” created by Clemson University researchers with the help of a grant from Bon Secours St. Francis health system.

“Bob” potentially represents the future of medical training, according to Dr. Sab Babu, virtual reality expert in the School of Computing.

“Up until now, novice practitioners have only been able to practice with role-playing and using mannequin type simulations,” said Babu

Where robots and paid actors can cost well into the hundreds of thousands over time, Babu says creating a virtual patient is providing a lower cost alternative to train future practitioners.

“Using virtual reality…this medical interview training is anytime anywhere and provides a repeatable type of experience,” he said.

By stepping into this virtual world, medical students are able to talk to “Bob” in his “room,” essentially diagnosing how he feels and what his symptoms are, just as if they were actually there in person.

“I see that in the future, hospitals and other institutions might actually embrace it,” said Babu.

Their next goal is to create a tablet based platform that would work on an iPad or Smartphone, making it upwardly mobile to other parts of the globe and creating the next generation of doctors and nurses who might not otherwise get a shot at medical training.

Clemson’s virtual reality department has already established working partnerships with BMW and Boeing to create simulated safety training. They most recently started work on a virtual textiles plant to help the “Department of Defense” create smart fabrics in hopes of making the US a global leader in high-tech fabrics.

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