Using brain-computer interface technology in medical education

Brain-computer interface (BCI) has been a topic of interest for several decades, and many discoveries have been made. The role of BCI has been monumental and significantly impactful in the field of medicine. It has been gaining much progress in recent decades with inventions such as the encephalophone, in which a person can create music with their thoughts alone, or a patient can move a cursor icon on a monitor by a receiver converting brainwave activity into executed computer actions. These are only a few examples of the potential in this type of technology. It can easily be assumed that this technology will be deeply integrated into patient care. Since technology has been progressively entering most professional fields, it is certainly going to be a primary component to the underpinnings of several jobs. That is why I think it is imperative that medical students begin to learn more about technology, especially BCI.

Undergraduate medical education has experienced many changes as more information is presented and as society changes. It is especially important medical colleges begin to add BCI education into their curricula. By educating student doctors on this type of technology at an early stage, it would ultimately prepare the next generation of physicians on how to use BCI for the benefit of patients. As an example, if students were to use BCI technology during their pre-clinical years in simulated patient lab experiences, then they could transfer these skills during their clerkship years when possible. Imagine BCI technology being used by a recently graduated neurology resident who would like to determine if a patient in a coma state still retains the functional, creative aspect of their cortex by having the patient create music with their thoughts, along with some input from the frontal cortex. This would most likely be combined with another research-based technology that is currently being work on in which physicians could stimulate the patient sufficiently to react to commands.

Another example would be in a scenario in which a physiatrist could use BCI technology to augment natural functions of patients who lost their motor or sensory component of muscle groups after an accident or due to a neurodegenerative disease, not only for rehabilitative purposes.

The potential of BCI is expansive, but it does have limitations in respect to utilization. One of which would be a patient who suffers from multiple peripheral pathologies which affect the central nervous system, in which case BCI would only be adjunctive rather than the mainstay treatment. These are all topics that can be taught and discussed at the undergraduate medical and residency stage. Even in the case, a doctor does not decide to implement such technology into practice, it will be useful knowledge and can prepare them for any possible situations where it may be required in times of transition. An ongoing example would be the paper format of patient documentation to electronic health records (EHRs). Future physicians would have a broader skill set and be more equipped to handle different cases. May it be more or less efficiently is still something to be seen.

It should be noted that BCI can be divided into three types: non-invasive BCI, semi-invasive BCI, and invasive BCI. Although the article mainly focuses on the reason why medical colleges and residency programs should include BCI education, all types of technology that will heavily impact the medical profession should be included.

Daniel Gomez Ramos is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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