Taking medical training from the classroom to the virtual space

There are a multitude of medical emergencies physicians rarely have to respond to as they don’t happen very often. However, they still must be prepared for these incidents because not knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death.

For physicians using sedation and anesthesia, a complication of these medications is laryngospasm, a condition where the vocal cords spasm, causing airway obstruction and the inability to breathe. If not corrected in a timely manner, a patient can die. However, this occurs about 1% of the time for adults receiving anesthesia. The risk doubles for younger children and is three times as likely in infants under three months old.  

The complex nature of sedation and analgesia medications underscores the importance of medical professionals maintaining the latest knowledge of sedation literature, safety procedures, medication uses and complications as well as regulatory requirements. Typically, much of this education takes place in a lecture format with rare hands-on opportunities for practice. One OSF HealthCare physician has created a virtual reality module to train physicians on recognition and treatment of laryngospasm in children.

Lecture vs. Experiential Learning

Dr. Teresa Riech developed the VR laryngospasm module using software developed by the Jump Simulation Advanced Imaging and Modeling team that allows clinical educators to build interactive lectures in virtual reality. As the Medical Director of the Pediatric Emergency Department for OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, Dr. Riech says it’s important for clinicians across the Ministry to refresh their knowledge on how to manage sedation complications.

“It’s not something we encounter or think about very often,” said. Dr. Riech. “But we also don’t want to be trying to look up a reference when we are responding to an acute airway obstruction. Knowing how to handle this situation should always be in the back of our minds.”

To brush up on this critical skill, the VR laryngospasm module goes over the definitions of partial and complete airway closure, the sedation medications that commonly cause laryngospasm, risk factors and ways to help avoid the condition. The VR lecture also discusses how to recognize when children are having airway obstruction and how to respond emergently.  

As learners go through the lesson, they are watching and interacting with a 3D model of a head and trunk, so they can see what an airway obstruction looks like. The module also includes questions and answers so that clinical educators can gauge whether knowledge is being absorbed.

“It normally takes 1-2 hours to teach learners about laryngospasm, but we’ve been able to reduce that time to 25 minutes using virtual reality,” said Dr. Riech. “This mode of education also gives individuals the chance to practice their skills instead of just passively learning the information.”

Dr. Riech says research suggests that training allowing learners to experience the material—like what occurs in VR--leads to individuals retaining between 75%-90% of the material they’ve encountered. This is compared to less than 1% knowledge recalled for those going through a lecture and 10% for those who read education materials themselves.

Other Benefits of the VR space

Beyond giving learners firsthand experiences, VR training is a portable and efficient means of education.  It’s easily scalable and can track learner competency. This method can also be used for other medical issues that are difficult to simulate with conventional training approaches.

The VR laryngospasm module will be showcased at the 2019 national Society for Pediatric Sedation Conference as well as the upcoming course, Pediatric Procedural Sedation and Analgesia in the Emergency Department at the Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center. Clinicians will get to try out the VR education experience and offer feedback on the module at the Jump event. 

Get a glimpse of the VR Laryngospasm Module in the video clips below.

VR Module #1



VR Module #2



VR Module #3


Categories: Advanced Imaging and Modeling (AIM), Continuing Medical Education (CME), Innovation, Medical Visualization, Virtual Reality (VR)