Human Vs Digital Dissection For Medical Students

Feb 8, 2016

An increasing number of medical schools are incorporating digital dissections into their curriculum. But the University of Cincinnati is not one of them. It says this is a case where technology is not better. Instructors say a hands-on approach is key.

According to Dr. Bruce Giffin, who oversees the UC gross anatomy curriculum content, “There’s lots of digital electronic adjuncts that have come out, but they are all two-dimensional. Even the three-dimensional don’t work as well. Getting your hands in the cadaver dissecting, seeing relationships of organic structures that can really only be done well by actually doing the dissection, so we’re really, really strong about that.”

Anatomedia is working on a virtual body that students can feel the texture of skin, the firmness of an athletic muscle, or the pulsatile flow of blood at a wrist pulse point.
Credit Anatomedia

Medical school students Ellie Farr and Matt Maksimoski agree. According to Matt, "We don't do patients that are in a book."

Ellie says cadaver dissections mean so much more than clicking through electronic programs and spinning a 3-D heart. "It actually makes me sad that schools are starting to switch and go completely to a computer model."

UC has looked at a lot of programs, according to Giffin and is not pleased. "Maybe in the far distant future there will be virtual bodies. I don't know, and that maybe is something we can take advantage of,"

Yale is now offering an on-line Master of Medical Science Degree. A Wall Street Journal article reports the program will rely heavily on live, interactive online classes, as well as hands-on clinical stints at field sites near students and at least three meetings on Yale’s New Haven, Conn. campus for activities such as cadaver dissection.

Harvard has used Xbox Kinect to teach hands-on virtual dissection.

Cornell University uses an iPad app it developed during dissections.

It's still a couple of years out but a technology company in Australia is creating a 3-D virtual human whose anatomy students would not only be able to see, but actually feel.

Digital reports that by using haptic electronic devices that can create the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations or motions, students can manipulate things on the screen while experiencing them as if they are real. Anatomedia is looking for funding. A state-of-the-art version could cost $24 million. 

This story was originally broadcast 4/20/15.