Imperial College London

Advancing healthcare education and clinical practice with extended reality (XR)


Woman being trained on VR headset

In the ever-evolving healthcare landscape, technology plays an indispensable role in shaping the future of medical education and clinical practice.

Among the cutting-edge innovations, Extended Reality (XR) has emerged as a powerful tool with the potential to revolutionise the healthcare sector.

XR, or mixed reality, is a way of describing all technologies that bring the digital world and the real world together. These include augmented reality (AR), where you can overlay digital information onto the real world, and virtual reality (VR), where you are completely immersed in a digital space and don’t see the real world. 

In response to the growing demand for specialised knowledge in this area, Imperial College’s Faculty of Medicine is launching a new and exciting MOOC titled "Extended Reality in Healthcare Education and Clinical Practice" this Autumn. Developed by the Department of Surgery and Cancer's James Kinross and Jason Lawson, Sajan Patel from Imperial's School of Medicine, and in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary EdTech Lab and Digital Media Lab, this MOOC will allow learners to embrace XR as a transformative force in the healthcare landscape.

XR expertise

The genesis of this groundbreaking MOOC arose from the realisation that harnessing Extended Reality in healthcare requires more than just acquiring technology, but the need to ensure that the applicable use and integration of extended reality is fully appreciated.

Man using VR in musculoskeletal workThe team brought experts in simulation and innovative technologies together to explore the strategic integration of XR in medical education and clinical settings. By emphasising experience-driven application, this course will address the issue of indiscriminate adoption of XR technology without clear objectives, leading to more purposeful and impactful implementations.

The core objective of the MOOC will be to empower individuals enthusiastic about XR to channel their passion into uplifting medical education and clinical practice. By imparting fundamental principles and real-world lessons, participants will gain multidisciplinary perspectives on how XR can be successfully integrated into healthcare.

The Faculty of Medicine, and Imperial more widely, has already witnessed a diverse range of applications for mixed reality technology. These applications span various areas, including:

  1. Education: XR is being utilised to enhance medical training, providing simulated environments for complex anatomy lessons, surgical skills, and emergency medical procedures.
  2. Access: XR is enabling remote access to medical support and expertise, bridging geographical barriers, enabling education during the pandemic, and facilitating knowledge exchange.
  3. Visualisation and Conceptualization: XR is aiding in visualising medical concepts and treatment plans, fostering a deeper understanding among medical practitioners and patients alike.
  4. Clinical Practice: XR is finding applications within hospital wards and surgical operations, supporting treatment decisions and improving patient outcomes.
  5. Planning: XR technology is assisting in planning, streamlining workflows and enhancing the precision of medical interventions.
Imperial's School of Medicine becomes the first in the UK to use virtual reality (VR) as part of their curriculum to train future doctors.

Opportunities for XR in Education

Extended Reality offers transformative opportunities in the realms of medical education and clinical practice, reshaping the way healthcare professionals learn, train, and deliver care. Several Imepiral-led studies have demonstrated the potential of XR technology in various applications, igniting a promising future for the healthcare industry.

In medical education, XR provides immersive and interactive learning experiences, enabling students and trainees to practice things like complex surgical skills, anatomy lessons, and emergency medical procedures in simulated environments. This fosters skill development and confidence without jeopardizing real patients. Moreover, XR facilitates remote assessment and evaluation of medical trainees, allowing experts from distant locations to provide comprehensive feedback and objective assessments.

Doctor using a holo lense and talking to patient during the pandemicThe integration of XR also holds the potential to serve as a digital logbook, streamlining documentation and progress tracking for medical students and practitioners, thereby enhancing record-keeping and monitoring individual growth and achievements.

In the clinical setting, XR proves invaluable in remote ward rounds, allowing healthcare professionals to virtually visit patient wards without the need for physical presence, aiding infection control measures and reducing healthcare worker burdens, a particularly valuable feature during critical times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, XR enables distributed grand rounds, where experts from diverse locations convene virtually to discuss new protocols, innovative methods, and rare clinical cases, fostering a network of collaborative learning.

Another significant application of XR in healthcare is the use of holographic content for clinical communication, enabling medical professionals to share clinical details and collaborate from remote locations, eliminating the need for physical contact and reducing the risk of infection transmission, thereby enhancing overall patient safety. As XR technology continues to evolve, new applications and innovative use cases are poised to emerge, further augmenting the quality of healthcare delivery and medical training.

The Imperial's XR in Healthcare Education and Clinical Practice MOOC will empower learners to leverage this revolutionary technology, promising a future where cutting-edge advancements converge with human expertise, elevating healthcare to unprecedented heights.

Extending the XR Reality

Man being training on VR headsetXR technology presents a paradigm shift in the way medical education is delivered and clinical practice is executed. With its potential to create immersive, interactive, and remote experiences, XR opens up new horizons in training, assessment, and healthcare delivery.

The Extended Reality in Healthcare Education and Clinical Practice MOOC offered by Imperial will mark a significant milestone in advancing medical education and clinical practice. By bridging the gap between technology and its meaningful application, this course empowers learners to embrace XR as a transformative force in the healthcare landscape. With the support of experts and an interdisciplinary approach, participants are poised to emerge as pioneers in this dynamic field, driving innovation and improving patient care through the power of XR.


Benjie Coleman

Benjie Coleman
Department of Surgery & Cancer

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Virtual-and-augmented-reality, Education
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