The Pros and Cons of a Virtual Anatomy Lab vs. Traditional Lab

July 7, 2021

Pros and Cons of an Anatomy online vs traditional lab

The Valley of Decision. 

There are pros and cons with almost every decision in life. Typically, the smartest decision is thought of as the one with minimal consequences.  Instructors have a multitude of decisions to make.  They are given approximately 15 weeks, some even less depending on the institute, to teach students a concept. It almost seems like complete insanity and impossible to ask someone to explain the human body, which is possibly the most complex subject matter there is, in such a short amount of time. The subject matter of human anatomy tackles the explanation of how we exist and function. Yet, every semester, anatomy professors are faced with the challenge of doing this. 

They Succeed.

Anatomy professors are typically passionate about this opportunity to share knowledge to the next generation about something so vital and relevant to anyone. Without their knowledge of anatomy and physiology being passed on, there would be major holes in health and medicine that may cause society to revert back to old practices that were proven eventually to be harmful. We have come a long way from the theory of leech detoxifying and regularly bathing being viewed as unhealthy, and instead we are reaching for new medical breakthroughs and advancements. 

The Challenge.

Anatomy professors are faced with the decision of what is the best way to pass on this knowledge that is effective for students to understand such a complex subject. There is one major question that has crossed every professor's mind: Is online or in-person education better? There seems to be numerous research articles, information, and opinions that support both options. We are concentrating on the pros and cons of both a traditional anatomy lab compared to a virtual anatomy lab and answering the questions of what students, instructors, and departments are gaining and losing from each option. 

Cons of a Traditional Anatomy Lab:

  • Cost

    Dissections and plastic models are outrageously expensive. The going price of a human cadaver can range from $1k per specimen, all the way up to $5k per specimen. Multiple that by the number of students or groups in your anatomy curriculum, and you’re looking at a very large check to sign. Not to forget about other additional expenses that are associated with cadaveric dissection like formaldehyde, disinfecting supplies, PPE and dissection tools for students. That is why many departments purchase cheaper feline cadavers to use in their dissection labs. Although feline cadavers have a greater resemblance to the human body compared to frogs and other common dissection specimen, it is not the same as interacting and learning from actual human anatomy.

    The costs of plastic models from Carolina, ranges from $59 for an extremely basic “micro model” and stretches as high as $2,250 for a detailed plastic model of the human lymphatic system. With labs investing in multiple of these plastic models, a fortune is easily spent on plastic replicas that do not teach students how actual anatomy differs from a perfectly modeled cartoon version they experience from plastic models.

  • Time

    Time is a currency of its own. Many labs are performed in 3-5 hour segments that happen once a week. Typically 30 mins of the beginning and an additional 30 mins at the end of a lab are dedicated to pulling out dissections and specimens from last week and at the end of class, putting away and cleaning up after the current week’s dissection. An hour of the lab time is gone from simply preparing and cleaning. This is extremely inefficient. Leaving instructors 2 hours a week to give students experience with applying what they are learning in lecture - does not seem like enough time to master a concept.

Pros of a Traditional Anatomy Lab:

  • Real Anatomy

    Why lab departments are willing to invest time and money into traditional, in-person labs and dissections is the valuable experience students gain of working with real, authentic anatomy. Students are no longer looking at text book images and ideal anatomy drawn based on a perfect, 21-year-old with 3% body fat and no health problems. They are gaining experience by actually using their hands and applying their knowledge to identify important organs, vessels, and spatial relationships that can only be demonstrated using real anatomy.

Pros of a Virtual Lab:

  • Cost-Efficient

    Virtual labs do not have any of the expenses outlined under the first con of a traditional lab. Typically the price range for a virtual lab will vary depending on the needs and level of the institution and are in the form of software licenses or an online access subscription basis. At BodyViz, we offer multiple forms of license versions for students, instructors, labs, and professionals. This means not only are our users getting a cost-effective deal, but a tailored to fit solution to their needs.

  • Time-Efficient

    No time is lost with preparing, cleaning, and putting away supplies and specimens. Students and Instructors can start an online dissection within the time it takes to start a laptop or computer and open an application. Instructors can even prepare content beforehand by screen recording virtual dissection videos and instructions for students. These videos can be replayed unlimited times, and content used for multiple semesters. 

  • Accessibility

    With virtual labs, dissections can happen anywhere and at anytime from a desktop, laptop, iPad, or tablet. This sort of accessibility has been renovating the way knowledge is being shared. Most departments have already invested in computer resources and have what is necessary to implement virtual lab solutions. This also means there is very little overhead costs for the virtual labs.

Cons of a Virtual Lab:

  • Lacks Real Anatomy.

    One of the major compromises instructors place a large amount of weight on with virtual labs is students' inability to experience real anatomy that shows natural variations, diseases, health complications, development stages, and how actual organs and vessels are placed in the body. These sorts of features are not shown in cartoon, drawn anatomy models that showcase only ideal anatomy that is unrealistic and in 2D that other online labs offer.
But with BodyViz, instructors do not have to compromise.

The Solution: BodyViz offers real 3D anatomy based on actual patients

A core tenet of BodyViz solutions is that we use real patient data from MRI and CT scans to create our visualizations. This is done using complex mathematical algorithms to render visualizations directly from medical imaging data. Imagine stacking individual MRI or CT scan slices like a deck of cards. From that stack, the BodyViz rendering engine interpolates between every individual pixel on each medical imaging slice and transforms the 2D data into a 3D visualization. Students still can examine, slice, annotate, and more with BodyViz corresponding to how they would with a traditional dissection.

The benefits/pros of using real anatomy in education is undeniable and important:

  • Increasing student engagement and comprehension of actual anatomy
  • Showcasing realistic and broad variations in human anatomy
  • Preparing students for their post-academic careers

The use of real anatomy is becoming less of a suggestion and more of a necessity.

If you are performing in-person traditional anatomy labs, we understand the importance of real anatomy and making sure your students gain hands on experience.  We hope to have explained how BodyViz can provide your students with this same sort of experience while saving you and  your department time and money.

If you are using a virtual dissection lab that features modeled data, you can only take education so far. At some point you need to switch over to real anatomy, and sooner is better than later.  

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To sum up this conversation, we have created this infographic for you to download and share with your friends to help them save time and money with anatomy education.  With extra time and money saved, more efficient learning can occur, and revolution in anatomy education will supersede! Be a part of the revolution by implementing BodyViz into your courses and sharing this information with your friends.

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