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The Opportunities and Challenges of Digital Anatomy for Medical Sciences: A Narrative Review

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Version 2 2023-11-09, 05:33
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posted on 2023-11-09, 05:33 authored by Nilmini WickramasingheNilmini Wickramasinghe, Bruce Thompson, Junhua XiaoJunhua Xiao
BACKGROUND: Anatomy has been the cornerstone of medical education for centuries. However, given the advances in the Internet of Things, this landscape has been augmented in the past decade, shifting toward a greater focus on adopting digital technologies. Digital anatomy is emerging as a new discipline that represents an opportunity to embrace advances in digital health technologies and apply them to the domain of modern medical sciences. Notably, the use of augmented or mixed and virtual reality as well as mobile and platforms and 3D printing in modern anatomy has dramatically increased in the last 5 years. OBJECTIVE: This review aims to outline the emerging area of digital anatomy and summarize opportunities and challenges for incorporating digital anatomy in medical science education and practices. METHODS: Literature searches were performed using the PubMed, Embase, and MEDLINE bibliographic databases for research articles published between January 2005 and June 2021 (inclusive). Out of the 4650 articles, 651 (14%) were advanced to full-text screening and 77 (1.7%) were eligible for inclusion in the narrative review. We performed a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) analysis to evaluate the role that digital anatomy plays in both the learning and teaching of medicine and health sciences as well as its practice. RESULTS: Digital anatomy has not only revolutionized undergraduate anatomy education via 3D reconstruction of the human body but is shifting the paradigm of pre- and vocational training for medical professionals via digital simulation, advancing health care. Importantly, it was noted that digital anatomy not only benefits in situ real time clinical practice but also has many advantages for learning and teaching clinicians at multiple levels. Using the SWOT analysis, we described strengths and opportunities that together serve to underscore the benefits of embracing digital anatomy, in particular the areas for collaboration and medical advances. The SWOT analysis also identified a few weaknesses associated with digital anatomy, which are primarily related to the fact that the current reach and range of applications for digital anatomy are very limited owing to its nascent nature. Furthermore, threats are limited to technical aspects such as hardware and software issues. CONCLUSIONS: This review highlights the advances in digital health and Health 4.0 in key areas of digital anatomy analytics. The continuous evolution of digital technologies will increase their ability to reinforce anatomy knowledge and advance clinical practice. However, digital anatomy education should not be viewed as a simple technical conversion and needs an explicit pedagogical framework. This review will be a valuable asset for educators and researchers to incorporate digital anatomy into the learning and teaching of medical sciences and their practice.


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JMIR Medical Education





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JMIR Publications Inc.



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© Nilmini Wickramasinghe, Bruce R Thompson, Junhua Xiao. Originally published in JMIR Medical Education. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Medical Education, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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