Veterinary Students Poised to Experience Virtual Reality Acupuncture Patient

SimPooch, a virtual reality dog that lives in cyberspace, represents a medical first for acupuncture students and doctors. Veterinary students at the Colorado State University College (CSU) of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will soon use SimPooch to test classroom knowledge of stimulating acupuncture points. In addition to allowing students trial-and-error practice without stressing animals, SimPooch illustrates the scientific nature of acupuncture, which could help bolster an application to the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS). 

SimPooch is believed to be the first virtual reality interface model used in human and veterinary acupuncture circles. 

SimPooch was designed to help students and doctors learn how to identify anatomic landmarks. The emphasis on anatomy is key, said Narda Robinson, DVM, DO, who designed the model with several mechanical engineering students at CSU to dispel the myth that acupuncture stimulates invisible energies. Although its mystical elements are commonly discussed, acupuncture is a scientifically-based practice, Robinson explained. 

Using the model to identify intersections of nerves, blood vessels, and other key anatomical surfaces, students can practice with little restriction on time or availability because SimPooch lives in cyberspace.

Robinson initiated the project three years ago and estimates that it represents a $7,000 investment. Those resources will be well spent if SimPooch helps professionals realize the scientific foundation of acupuncture, she said.

“Sadly, a large percentage of veterinary acupuncturists continue to believe that acupuncture works by moving invisible energies around the body,” Robinson explained. “They then miss out on the wealth of understanding [of] how acupuncture works, [which] neuroanatomy (the anatomy of the nervous system) affords.”

Haptic technology, which was used to build the dog model,  provides students with a realistic feel to the simulation, Robinson said. Once the technology is adapted to needle insertion, users will feel resistance that mimics penetration of tissue layers even though they will be pushing a stylus in midair, she added.

In addition to providing an educational tool and perhaps moving the ABVS application forward, the use of SimPooch will reduce the need for live animals, Robinson said. Students will be allowed to repeatedly practice their techniques, she added. 

“When students do make it to a real patient, they will be that much better equipped to approach the animal from a practiced, not novice, standpoint.”

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