We have witnessed significant advancements in virtual reality (VR) technology in recent years. To be specific, VR is no longer a common jargon or term just for gamers or techies. In fact, VR in healthcare has become more and more prevalent – with the technology incorporated in surgery simulation, phobia treatment, robotic surgery and skills training.

Providing an advanced alternative to conventional training approaches, medical students can now improve hands-on training by going through skin layers all the way down to the bones, and back again. Similarly, surgeons may now practise performing a mock surgery through a realistic, immersive experience without using real bodies.

Virtual reality to boost efficiency of healthcare practices

Medical education and surgeon practices involve mostly traditional two-dimensional (2D) textbooks, supplement lectures, online learning and cadavers when it comes to understanding patient-specific anatomy and pathology. But, computer-stimulated reality, like VR, could take things to another notch – providing users an all-rounded three-dimensional (3D) picture of a human body, in a comfortable, virtual environment where it feels realistic.


Relating to the fact that cadavers are expensive to get (where medical trainees usually practise only on one cadaver before performing surgeries on real patients), Dr Leonard Kranzler, MD, Neurosurgeon at the University of Chicago, shares “doctors in this day and age are still learning while doing rather than learning while practising. They should practise first not on patients”. Commenting on the need for more trainings, Justin Barad, a practising paediatric orthopaedist (also the CEO and founder of Osso VR) echoes that “in med school, they say ‘see one, do one, teach one’. It’s a confidence builder; but the truth is you need to do 50 to 100 cases for proficiency.”

With the help of headphones, microphones, VR goggles, handset controllers, and laser sensors on the wall that follow their every move – medical students can act or give commands based on their “clinical decisions” to the virtual patients. For instance, they can put on a headset and start to “move” the bones, muscles, nerves and organs independently, zoom in to the microscopic level if they want to. Simultaneously, lecturers can observe the displaying monitors to guide students during their practices. This way, students would have a better understanding about the different relationships between the muscles, nerves, and organs.

Mannequins: Realistic simulation before VR

Recently, doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital collaborated with Emmy-award winning special effects group, Fractured FX – through a paediatrics simulation programme – to create a realistic model of a 14-year-old boy. Fractured FX had participated in several Hollywood movies like Watchmen and 300: Rise of an Empire. Rather than practising on fruits and vegetables, neurosurgeons can now go through neurosurgery practices using the “boy”.


The idea of practising in a simulation isn’t new. Take MedStar Institute for instance – it already has medical residents practising on “high-fidelity human simulators”. These computer-enhanced human-sized mannequins have pulses and IV placed – can breathe and be intubated. Although these human simulators are remarkable for training, they might not come cheap. Each could cost MedStar hospitals more than USD100,000, and only a few doctors can use one mannequin at one time. This could lead to a costlier healthcare training as compared to using the VR technology – in which any number of users could use the VR programme, with a pair of goggles that costs approximately USD800.

VR: Delivering enhanced medical care to patients

Some US hospitals have experimented with using VR for pain management and PTSD therapy. While it can be hard to make a reasonable injury encounter by means of reproduction, a virtual injury tolerant through the VR programme could help users to get used to calming themselves and picking up control over their feelings, thoughts and actions to be valuable in the situation.

There are ongoing studies to explore whether VR technology’s uses could benefit paediatric anaesthesiologists in decreasing the experience of pain for paediatric patients undergoing bone-marrow transplants. This could possibly help in reducing the side effects of using medications for pain relief among children.

At Children’s National, Dr Julia Finkel is studying whether VR reduces pain for paediatric patients. Photo credit: Children’s National Health System

At Children’s National, Dr Julia Finkel is studying whether VR reduces pain for paediatric patients. Photo credit: Children’s National Health System
  
Furthermore, VR could help doctors in providing diagnosis easier to patients. It can be much harder for patients to translate a 2D, black-and-white MRI image into 3D realistic picture of what is going on in their bodies. Therefore, VR technology could allow doctors to walk patients through their own anatomy with a 360-degree VR view – also, making it easier for doctors to explain the necessity of surgeries required for the patients. 

In India, a team of surgeons at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), recently used the ImmersiveTouch Mission Rehearsal VR surgical platform to separate craniopagus twins who are fused together at the head. “We could see, feel and study connected tissue, discuss anatomy, and examine surgical pathways to practice the surgery multiple times and plan the most effective surgical roadmap,” explained Dr Deepak Gupta, who led the surgical team of 40 doctors. They managed to separate a significant portion of the conjoined twins’ brains – after a 22-hour long surgery. MIMS

Read more:
Hololens: Virtual Reality brings medical education to a whole new level
4 science fiction ideas realised in medical technology
10 medical innovations that changed the world: Devices and technology

Sources:
https://www.washingtonian.com/2017/09/12/hospital-just-hired-video-game-developer-medstar-virtual-reality/
https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2017/09/408301/how-vr-revolutionizing-way-future-doctors-are-learning-about-our-bodies https://www.forbes.com/sites/charliefink/2017/09/28/how-vr-saves-lives-in-the-or/#28b627a33099
https://qz.com/1094399/surgeons-are-practicing-brain-surgery-on-fake-heads-made-by-a-hollywood-special-effects-team/ https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/conjoined-twins-survive-22-hour-surgery-need-more-over-3-months/articleshow/60283199.cms