Harnessing Augmented Reality and CT to Teach First-Year Medical Students Head and Neck Anatomy

Acad Radiol. 2020 Aug 20;S1076-6332(20)30424-4. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2020.07.008. Online ahead of print.


Rationale and objectives: Three-dimensional (3D) visualization has been shown to benefit new generations of medical students and physicians-in-training in a variety of contexts. However, there is limited research directly comparing student performance after using 3D tools to those using two-dimensional (2D) screens.

Materials and methods: A CT was performed on a donated cadaver and a 3D CT hologram was created. A total of 30 first-year medical students were randomly assigned into two groups to review head and neck anatomy in a teaching session that incorporated CT. The first group used an augmented reality headset, while the second group used a laptop screen. The students were administered a five-question anatomy test before and after the session. Two-tailed t-tests were used for statistical comparison of pretest and posttest performance within and between groups. A feedback survey was distributed for qualitative data.

Results: Pretest vs. posttest comparison of average percentage of questions answered correctly demonstrated both groups showing significant in-group improvement (p < 0.05), from 59% to 95% in the augmented reality group, and from 57% to 80% in the screen group. Between-group analysis indicated that posttest performance was significantly better in the augmented reality group (p = 0.022, effect size = 0.73).

Conclusion: Immersive 3D visualization has the potential to improve short-term anatomic recall in the head and neck compared to traditional 2D screen-based review, as well as engage millennial learners to learn better in anatomy laboratory. Our findings may reflect additional benefit gained from the stereoscopic depth cues present in augmented reality-based visualization.

Keywords: 3D visualization; Augmented reality; Medical education; Mixed reality; Near-peer; Technology in education.