crowd of medical students stumbling after a Consultant on a ward round has been a common sight in hospitals for decades now; but perhaps not for much longer. A London university has utilised AR to allow students to take part in a ward round from their own home.

Imperial College in London has conducted the world’s first virtual ward round powered by AR for medical students. A Consultant can now examine a patient with an entire class of 350 students watching via AR technology, instead of the three or four students who have been fortunate enough to be able to accompany them in person.


To conduct the virtual ward round, the Consultant wears the Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses, which live stream the video directly to the student’s computers. As the Consultant talks to the patient, the students are able to hear them both through the use of two microphones. 

Lecturers are also able to pin additional aids such as virtual pictures to the display, this could include radiographs, X-rays or drug charts. Lecturers can also draw lines to highlight viral information they want to emphasise.

The first virtual ward round was delivered at St Mary’s hospital in London last week with just under a dozen students in attendance.

AR Ward rounds

Dr Amir Sam, head of the school of medicine at Imperial, said the innovation was sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic as hospitals have attempted to minimise the risk of infection by preventing non essential visitors, including students. Sam stated:

“The pandemic resulted in the first time in living memory that medical education has been truly limited by having no access at all to patients” 

The virtual ward rounds can be recorded, allowing universities to create a library of situational experiences for students to view and learn from. Allowing for more students to get to see patients with rare conditions and have a better understanding of the symptoms and how the patient acts as well as learning about bedside manner.

Sam went on to say:

“Ensuring every student is rotated through a similar experience of clinical placements in their time at medical school – to ensure each of them has seen a comparable case mix – is challenging… Teaching with the HoloLens allows us to guarantee a level of exposure for our students to a far greater range of patients and conditions than ever before.”

Sam acted as a patient to test the AR technology before the first class was initiated, he felt that  some patients may prefer the experience to being confronted by a large group of students which may make them feel uneasy.

hospital staff

Fifth year medical student, Oliver Salazar, who was present in the AR ward round said it was:

“An invaluable clinical experience… Despite the ward round being virtual, it felt far from it – we were expected to ask questions and think about clinical problems in real time,” he said. “It was really helpful to be able to access investigations like X-rays and blood tests in an instant, and the way the information was projected felt natural.”

Dr James Kinross, a consultant surgeon, introduced the technology to Imperial in May to allow clinical staff to conduct ward rounds more safely during the pandemic.

Sam said he hoped that the AR virtual ward rounds will allow students to feel that they can take part, even if they are studying at other universities. Sam went on to say:

“We’ll be able to offer education for a broader community...Medical educators and doctors globally can benefit.”
Jul 8, 2020
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