Virtual Reality Gaming Augments X-Ray Skills

by Boaz Feldman

It’s never surprising to find cutting edge technology like virtual reality (VR) on a college campus. But it is surprising to find students embracing that technology in a computer game format to make themselves more comfortable with and more adept at taking X-rays of other people.It’s all part of a new idea being implemented at Bangor University in North Wales to train the next generation of radiographers - the technicians who take diagnostic X-rays for hospitals and at general medical facilities. The university is the beneficiary of headsets and graphics courtesy Revolutionary Virtual Reality. Its Wrexham campus ordered the VR technology that allows radiography students to take X-rays without the risk of cancer-causing gamma rays that people are exposed to during the X-ray process.

Avoiding dangerous side effects

X-rays and gamma rays are both types of high energy electromagnetic radiation that have no charge or mass.
They are grouped together because they have the same effects on health and the same properties. They are both forms of high-frequency ionising radiation, meaning there is enough energy to remove electrons from atoms or molecules, which then become unstable and go through dramatic chemical changes.
Radiation passing through a body’s cells can make mutations happen in the DNA. Sometimes they even kill cells. The more frequent the body takes doses of radiation, the more damage can be done.
That’s why technicians leave the room when they give someone an X-ray, and why they put heavy lead vests on patients’ bodies to prevent them from taking any unnecessary radiation doses. 

How It Works

Pioneered in Christchurch, New Zealand, the software recreates an X-ray suite virtually for about £15,000; compared to the cost of about £250,000 for a physical facility to be set up for the same purpose.
Wearing VR goggles, students can position their virtual patients again and again to ensure they are getting the correct alignment with the least amount of radiation possible.“Like all radiography courses, we are limited by the amount of actual X-rays that students can take because of exposure to ionizing radiation,” Bangor University Course Lead for Diagnostic Radiography Delyth Hughes said.
“But this new VR system means those limits no longer apply because we aren’t actually taking an X-ray, but we can still see the results.

Using VR, the student can position a virtual patient and then see if they’ve got it right without any of the issues of expense or exposure.”The technology is also being used at Harvard University in the United States. The idea is the mastermind of Jamie Hayes, a lecturer of medical imaging at the Ara Institute of Canterbury. Hayes’s initial idea was an entire virtual reality room, but the gamification aspect, which gives students higher or lower scores based on how accurate they are, was chosen because of its natural ability to show them how well or poorly they are doing on each effort.