3D4Medical‘s (Dublin, Ireland) award-winning Complete Anatomy digital educational platform facilitates the exploration of human anatomical characteristics that are difficult to visualize via traditional methods or without hands-on training. The system, widely employed in medical education at the university level, offers students and educators a unique opportunity to investigate bodily systems, features, and conditions virtually with unprecedented precision and interactive control. Niall Johnston, the President of 3D4Medical, was kind enough to sit down with the Medgadget team recently to discuss his platform’s technology, its success to date in the market, and what’s to come.
Niall is a seasoned management executive who has extensive experience both nationally and internationally in hardware services and software industries. Upon emigrating to the United States following receipt of his 1989 Bachelors in Commerce degree from University College Galway, Niall established a noteworthy career working in sales for MicroAge. He quickly demonstrated an ability and affinity for growing teams, and progressed into senior sales and general management positions with significant operating budgets and revenue streams. Niall took the helm of MicroAge UK in 1999 and rapidly turned a loss-making venture into a profitable business. After a brief time in Ireland helping a fledgling eLearning company, Niall returned to the US in 2002 and setup his own company to help small Irish businesses establish their US presence. While running Seezn Technology, Niall met John Moore. The duo went on to form 3D4Medical in 2005. Our interview with Niall is reproduced below in full.
Zach Kaufman, Medgadget: As we start off here, is there anything specific about 3D4Medical’s Complete Anatomy education tool that you would like to share with our readership?
Niall Johnston, 3D4Medical: Complete Anatomy is transforming how anatomy and physiology is studied in academic institutions across the world, allowing students to investigate every minute detail of the anatomy in incredible 3D. In the comfort of the 3D world, users can explore the anatomy by zooming to minutiae; rotating to every angle; cutting through structures and discovering what is behind every layer.
They can access vast libraries of anatomical information and watch 3D lectures and animations on anatomy-specific topics. They can simulate disease states by adding fractures, growths, bone spurs and pain sites – all without any of the blood and tissue usually associated with such exploration or cadaveric dissection. Users can create screens/recordings/quizzes using the tools mentioned above and share this content via the cloud-based platform to other groups of users.
In addition, a powerful tool within the app is the ground-breaking Lecture Builder feature, which allows educators to create custom lectures incorporating 3D4Medical lecture material and/or the educator’s own material. They can also add audio, import MRIs or X-rays and integrate them into their lectures.
A big focus for us at 3D4Medical is personalisation and, together, Complete Anatomy and Lecture Builder make the teaching and learning of anatomy a collaborative, yet highly-personalised, experience. These lectures are delivered to students via the cloud-based platform where they can consume the materials and still be part of an interactive learning environment.
We are also partnering with leading anatomists worldwide who are helping 3D4Medical create content in areas such as histology, radiology, cadaveric imagery, clinical correlates, physiology to name a few. This cloud-based platform is being tested in nearly 100 medical schools worldwide already, despite the fact that Lecture Builder was only released 4 months ago.
Medgadget: Speaking generally, would you mind telling me a bit about the platform? What are the most significant benefits of using Complete Anatomy as opposed to more traditional methods for learning and understanding complex anatomical information?
Johnston: Anatomy is an exhilarating and beautiful subject; however, it often proves to be a challenging topic for students to grasp.
Challenges reside in the fact that a deep anatomical understanding requires the student to envisage and manipulate a structure in their mind and then go on to use that knowledge in clinical practice. Until recently, the education of medicine and related fields has been solely through cumbersome and dense medical textbooks written almost 100 years ago, skeletons, elusive cadavers and rote-memorisation of body parts, none of which allow the student to fully grasp the magnificence of a beating heart, a pumping blood vessel or a moving muscle.
Complete Anatomy takes anatomical learning to another level and makes it a highly dynamic, interactive and engaging experience. The 3D world of Complete Anatomy and the level of detail provided for the user means that the user can grasp the anatomical detail of a specific structure without having to cut into a cadaver or be present at a procedure. The user can go behind all the blood and fascia and gain a full and proper appreciation of an entire anatomical structure and its relationship to those structures and systems surrounding it. The user can learn about the various systems of the body, how blood and nerve supplies move around the body and how the various systems interact, all in the comfort and convenience of a mobile platform and at their own pace.
Medgadget: Is there a particular anatomical system or application that is difficult to learn via traditional methods for which the software is especially helpful?
Johnston: Anatomy can be a difficult subject to grasp, primarily due to the fact that many of the structures are hidden away from the world amongst a complex network of skin, flesh, bones, muscles, arteries and fascia.
Although the opportunity to dissect and examine cadavers is a wonderful resource for medical students, the cadavers themselves are, of course, very different to a living body. Storage and maintenance costs are high. Studies have also shown that many students suffer PTSD-like symptoms due to the difficult emotional aspect of dissection, with 96% of US medical schools holding post-dissection ceremonies to honour the donors and help the students to process their emotions.
Our objective, however, is not to replace cadaveric dissection but to complement it with dynamic and engaging tools that can aid in the education process. Complete Anatomy removes all such concerns and restrictions and instead provides an interactive platform upon which students can completely strip back and closely examine every minute detail of the human anatomy in highly intricate and engaging 3D detail, where they can manipulate views, isolate entire systems and specific parts thereof, cut into specific structures and simulate disease states and areas of pain.
The quality of a student’s learning experience is infinitely improved across the board – the level of detail to which they are exposed is far superior to any other educational tool at their disposal; their interaction and engagement is richer and deeper, in turn contributing to a greater and more practical understanding of the anatomy and easier and more instant access to information leads to better use of student time.
Medgadget: What has enabled and inspired you to develop and release this product at this time? For example, was this a tool simply awaiting advancements in technical capability that made it possible? Or was this designed in response to perceived shortcomings in medical education?
Johnston: The student of today is very different than before. Their native language is digital; their preferred medium is digital; their world is digital. Methods of education must respond to this. Flat 2D imaging has been the best on offer in the past but times have changed and the magnificence of 3D is transformative. The digital landscape is itself constantly evolving, becoming more interactive and engaging by the minute. Complete Anatomy has embraced both the societal shift and the technology available, allowing the user to experience anatomy like never before.
Medgadget: Would you please describe the development process and timeline? Whose input helped to shape the technology? What anatomical ‘truth’ is the Complete Anatomy educational platform based on? What types of continued development, upgrade, and update projects are ongoing?
Johnston: The concept of Complete Anatomy evolved from various enterprises over the past number of years, originating in the field of anatomical imaging for pharmaceutical companies before moving into the realm of medical apps. Since 2012, the company has been working on building the magnificent medical technology 3D platform that we have today and which has had more than 12 million downloads. The input of the various academic and medical experts that have come on board, together with our Advisory Board and Medical Review Board, has been crucial to the development of Complete Anatomy: their knowledge, experience and wisdom has been invaluable. Complete Anatomy is constantly being developed and updated, with an update approximately every 12 weeks.
Medgadget: I see that the Complete Anatomy application garnered a prestigious Apple Design Award earlier this year. Congratulations! Would you speak to the importance of design to the technology?
Johnston: Design is about solving a problem. At 3D4Medical, we are transforming medical learning (and practice), bringing it into the digital landscape of the 21st-century. We do this by developing the most cutting-edge innovative technology and filtering it through a refined user-interface design process in order to harness and present it in a way that is intuitive to use. For 3D4Medical, innovation and design are integral to our work: with the level of detail and anatomical complexity that we deal with in our software, good clean design is critical to help our user to navigate seamlessly through the abundance of information that we put at their fingertips. The technology opens the door to a whole new 3D world, with the ability to explore the human anatomy like never before and the smart design is the key. The recognition that we have received from Apple in the form of an Apple Design Award 2016 was something very special for the team.
Medgadget: Do you have any data and/or observational findings comparing the effectiveness of using the Complete Anatomy software or other digital learning techniques to live lecture presentations?
Johnston: The emergence of mobile technologies in recent years has triggered an academic shift in the world of medical education from the more traditional methods to mobile learning. Digital is becoming increasingly prevalent in the practice of medicine and students must be equipped for this. It was estimated in 2012 that nearly 25% of medical schools in the US had incorporated iPads as educational tools. A study completed in March 2016 found that the main advantages of iPads in medical learning included instant and constant access to information and resources, portability, ease of use and efficient time management. Other advantages of note are the cost-savings across the board on textbooks, paper and various other physical study aids.
Complete Anatomy has been rolled-out in a number of schools to date and, although the digital landscape is more native to the younger generations of today, is proving a major success with both tutors and students.
To quote Dr. Erin Fillmore, Anatomy Lecturer at Buckingham University, “It’s hard to argue against the fact that anatomy is a profession steeped in history, a history grounded in using traditional cadaveric dissection in order to understand the complexity of the human body. However, in an age where dissection is not always feasible and mobile digital learning aides are beginning to cleverly bridge the gap between real dissection and electronic representation, one cannot ignore the evolving tools in our profession. That is why we at the University of Buckingham Medical School decided to implement 3D4Medical’s Complete Anatomy into our integrated curriculum and it has proven to be a fantastic decision.”
In addition, there are a number of current studies that are measuring many different issues relating to both Complete Anatomy and Lecture Builder. We have nothing published yet but it won’t be long.
Medgadget: It seems to me that your software is largely marketed to students. Is there value for existing medical professionals? If so, in what ways might the technology be most useful?
Johnston: Complete Anatomy is a product that greatly benefits educators, students, medical professionals and patients. It allows medical professionals to illustrate to a patient the precise details of an anatomical issue in 3D, how certain motion might affect or exacerbate an issue and how and why particular exercises or treatment might improve matters. Interestingly, it was indeed the medical profession’s widespread use of the platform that led to the development of 3D4Medical’s Complete Ortho, which will launch in Q1 2017.
In addition, the precise knowledge that a medical professional must retain is colossal: Complete Anatomy serves as an incredibly powerful anatomical reference tool, allowing users to reference anatomical names, 3D animations, explanatory details, system interactions and refresh their understanding of same all at the touch of a screen. The ease of use of the platform in comparison to the laborious task of searching through medical texts and reference material is unquestionably incomparable.
Medgadget: You mentioned earlier the Lecture Builder feature, and we spoke offline about future versions of the software design for educators and/or as clinical solutions as well. Could you speak to those future plans?
Johnston: Building upon the interactive cutting-edge learning tools of Complete Anatomy, Lecture Builder allows educators to create Complete Anatomy lectures, incorporating their own anatomical simulations and manipulations using the various learning tools and adding lecture-specific text and relevant imaging such as MRIs and x-rays. Audio can also be layered over the lecture to guide the student through the material and a content-specific quiz can be included to allow the student to check their learning.
Using the revolutionary cloud-based sharing function, Lecture Builder allows the educator to then push the custom lectures to their various groups of students for uniquely tailored and ultra-convenient learning.
In terms of clinical solutions, 3D4Medical’s Complete Ortho will be the first in a series of clinical applications we will be launching over the next year. It will be launched in Q1 2017 and will transform the doctor/patient relationship, allowing medical professionals to engage with their patients in a more informative, educational and empowering way, all across a fully HIPAA-compliant platform. The patient will be guided through the entire process to recovery (the anatomical issue, pathology and procedure) in incredible 3D, allowing for a greater level of understanding of their issue and the treatment options available to them. This level of shared decision-making, education and empowerment will no doubt lead to a decrease in unnecessary physician revisits, increased patient-satisfaction and better medical outcomes across the board.
Medgadget: The adoption of the technology to date has been quite overwhelming. The application, which is now available on desktops, notebooks, and mobile devices, has been used or piloted at, I believe, more than 100 universities in the United States and has been sold more than 12 million times worldwide. My question is, what’s left to accomplish? What does 3D4Medical envision as the successful future for the Complete Anatomy application?
Johnston: Complete Anatomy is currently being piloted in over 100 medical schools around the world, approximately half of which are in the US. Although the power of Complete Anatomy is clear to anyone who sees it in use, the limitations are endless in terms of how it will evolve to ultimately become the platform for medical learning. Some of the features envisaged in the short-term include the addition histology, pathology, radiology and physiology, aiming to vastly increase the suite of learning opportunities that Complete Anatomy will offer. Given the increasing advancements in the areas of virtual, augmented and mixed realities, the sky is the limit for 3D4Medical and Complete Anatomy.
Complete Anatomy is currently compatible with iPad Pro (9.7” and 12″), iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad Mini 4 and Mac, with a Windows release due in January 2017.
Company homepage: 3D4Medical…
Product page: Complete Anatomy…