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NIH awards $1.6 million grant to Immertec and USF Health CAMLS to study novel medical training technology for health professionals in rural areas

Using virtual reality headsets and other immersive technology the study will measure the effectiveness of training health teams remotely from anywhere on advances in health care procedures.

Tampa, Fla. (Jan. 9, 2024) – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to a collaborative research initiative between Immertec and the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS). This 2-year study, with excepted funds of $1.6 million, aims to evaluate the viability and effectiveness of immersive technology in providing specialized medical training to rural health care professionals.

Co-principal investigators for this study are Michael Burns, EdD, data scientist for Immertec, and Shannon Bailey, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Education in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Senior Human Factors Scientist for USF Health CAMLS. 

"We're excited to partner with local small business, Immertec, to bring state-of-the-art health care training to rural areas,” Dr. Bailey said. “CAMLS is a leading center for simulation training and research, and through partnerships with technology companies like Immertec, we're able to expand the reach of training to areas that need it most."

Dr. Shannon Bailey

In the study, Immertec and USF Health aim to remove the traditional barriers that rural health care providers encounter by bringing specialized medical training directly to them using an immersive experience of modern VR technology with the proven benefits of traditional teaching methods, including personalized instruction and expert mentorship feedback. This blend aims to elevate the standard of medical training, making it more accessible and effective for professionals in remote areas. 

Through the use of VR headsets or an Immersive 2D viewer, the Immertec platform allows trainees to virtually step inside an operating room, offering a fully interactive first-person view of live surgeries – all remotely from their own locations. 

"At Immertec, we are deeply committed to revolutionizing medical training, especially in underserved areas," said Erik Maltais, CEO of Immertec. "This collaboration with USF Health CAMLS and the support of the NIH is a pivotal step towards achieving our vision of making cutting-edge medical education accessible everywhere. Our immersive VR technology is not just a tool; it's a bridge connecting rural healthcare professionals to the latest advancements in medical care."

Two ACGME-accredited family medicine residency programs in Florida's underserved rural areas have agreed to participate in the study.

“We are thrilled to partner with Immertec through this phase 2 NIH SBIR Award to evaluate how we can use emerging technologies, such as VR, to address the growing training gap for health care professionals working in rural communities,” said Haru Okuda, MD, CEO and executive director of USF Health CAMLS and professor and associate dean for Emerging Healthcare and Educational Technologies in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “This partnership demonstrates the power of collaboration among private and public academic organizations to advance patient care in our communities and the success of the growing Tampa Medical and Research district in downtown Tampa.” 

Immertec VR

A key endeavor of the project is the development of emergency obstetrics training, particularly designed for rural clinicians. The immersive technology of Immertec will provide these professionals with essential medical knowledge and skills, helping to reduce the gap in medical expertise between rural and urban areas. 

By incorporating a comprehensive strategy to ensure rural clinicians have access to vital training resources, the initiative is set to foster a strong exchange of knowledge and expertise across medical communities. 

Improving medical education in rural areas is not just an investment in health care providers but also in the broader population they serve. Enhanced training leads to better health outcomes, reduces the disparity in care between rural and urban areas, and ensures a higher standard of health care for all. The implementation of this program is a step towards a future where every health care provider, regardless of their geographical location, can offer the best possible care. 

"The heart of our technology at Immertec is about more than just innovation; it's about impact," added Jon Clagg, CTO of Immertec. "Working alongside USF Health CAMLS, we're not only showcasing the potential of VR in medical training but also actively addressing the critical need for accessible, advanced training in rural communities. Our technology is designed to empower healthcare professionals, regardless of their location, with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their field.”

The anticipated success of this initiative has the potential to create a cascade of nationwide programs aimed at eradicating educational inequities within the health care system. It stands as a beacon for the future of medical education, striving for a standard where continuous learning and improvement are accessible to every health care professional across the country.

About the research team:

  • Shannon Bailey, PhD, is a senior human factors scientist at the USF Health’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), as well as assistant professor in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Medical Education. Dr. Bailey specializes in human factors and extended reality technologies, leading research efforts to investigate educational best practices and cutting-edge simulation technologies for clinical training.
  • Michael Burns, EdD, is a data scientist at Immertec with a robust background in mathematics, programming, and education technology. Boasting over 15 years of experience in diverse technical roles, Dr. Burns has honed his skills in various programming languages and technologies. His journey includes significant contributions to the education sector, particularly in developing web-based assessment tools. At Immertec, he specializes in VR technology and data analytics, focusing on innovative approaches in 3D VR live-streaming for surgical training.

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About Health News

USF Health News highlights the great work of the faculty, staff and students across the four health colleges – Morsani College of Medicine, College of Public Health, College of Nursing and Taneja College of Pharmacy – and the multispecialty physicians group. USF Health, an integral part of the University of South Florida, integrates research, education and health care to reach our shared value - making life better.