Migrating Real-World Stimulus to Controlled Virtual Reality Environments: Lessons Learned from Transitioning Medical Diagnostic Assessments to the Virtual Realm

Wollocko, A., Jenkins, M., and Farry, M.

Presented at the 7th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2016), Orlando, FL (July 2016)

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) capabilities are becoming ubiquitous, with many traditional challenges (e.g., jitter, screen door effects, cost) being overcome as a result of major investments from consumer gaming and entertainment companies to make VR technology available and attractive to the masses. While gaming and entertainment developers continue to generate new content for VR/AR, other domains have not kept pace for a variety of reasons, despite the potentially revolutionizing impact VR/AR could have. For example, medical diagnostics is one domain where low-cost VR/AR technology has the potential to replace a number of existing procedures that currently require high cost, specialized equipment. In addition, this equipment requires a controlled clinical setting, with specially trained technicians or medical personnel to moderate and analyze evaluations, limiting the mobility of diagnostic care to specialized clinical or hospital settings. With a significant number of these specialized medical devices being designed to first present a controlled visual, audio, or tactile stimulus, and then objectively (or in many cases subjectively through human observation) acquire a patient’s response, there exists an opportunity to translate many of the supported clinical evaluation methods to VR/AR environments. This will significantly reduce overall equipment costs and increase portability and usability of evaluation equipment. These improvements are significant as numerous findings have shown medical treatment to be far more effective when illnesses are diagnosed at the point of injury or during first-responder triage and evaluations, often resulting in reduced long-term care requirements and costs associated with second and third order care. Therefore, medical device manufacturers and diagnostic science researchers need to evolve to consider the potential capabilities of VR and AR systems. This paper presents an initial framework established to translate real-world medical assessments to VR/AR systems, replicating the diagnostic fidelity of existing and clinically tested procedures using portable, low-cost, and commercially available off the shelf (COTS) hardware. To demonstrate this process, we provide a case study focused on the development of a portable screening kit designed to support in field vestibular function assessment. Through this example, we hope to begin to establish guidelines for transitioning medical assessments into virtual and augmented environments, with recommendations for: (1) understanding existing procedure/assessment requirements; (2) analyzing anticipated patients and their expected capabilities; (3) understanding the medical (or non-medical) evaluation mediators and what skills they will be able to provide; (4) extracting hardware and software constraints based on the envisioned operating environment; and (5) specifying stimulus output methods and response acquisition requirements. Each of these critical tasks is considered in turn to provide a framework for effectively translating traditional clinical procedures to VR/AR environments, which we believe begins to form the foundation to extend these technologies beyond just the medical domain.


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