Thursday April 14, 2015 marked the virtual virtually conducted surgery in human history. Dr. Shafi Ahmed brought surgery well into the future with an operation broadcast that lasted three hours. In a recent Business Insider interview Shafi explains,
“The entire operation, which lasted approximately three hours, was live-streamed on Medical Realities website for people without a VR headset. For those who have one, they could download the “VR in OR” app to get immersed in the 360-degree surgery room, right beside Ahmed as he removed cancerous tissue from a male patient’s bowel. In addition to being a full-time surgeon, Ahmed is the co-founder of the site putting on the broadcast, Medical Realities. Two years ago he live-streamed another surgery using the augmented-reality powers of Google Glass.
Virtual reality has and continues to be used in multiple stages of healthcare, ranging from diagnosis to treatment e.g. rehab and counseling, surgery etc. It has also been used in training the next generation of paramedics, doctors, and other medical personnel, and has exhibited great potential from doing so. So what makes VR in health care so attractive? Well, there are several which are related to preventative medicine, surgical/medical training, and counseling which we look at below.
Virtual reality in medical training
Virtual reality is used in medical schools and other similar settings as a means of instruction and education and most importantly – simulated real-time experience. It allows medical practitioners to acquire understanding and knowledge about the human body by interacting within a virtual environment. Here, medical students can carry out ‘hands on’ procedures but in a controlled and safe environment where they are able to make mistakes and learn from them devoid of risk to the patient. By interacting with a virtual patient, they get to learn the skills that they can then apply in real-life situations.
Virtual reality in paramedic training
Virtual training is also used to equip paramedics and other similar personnel with the necessary life saving skills, but without placing them or their patients at risk. This also has huge insurance and liability implications for medical establishments. This is done by interacting with a simulated emergency or accident in a virtual environment with minimal risk. These scenarios are quite realistic and allow them to experience high pressure situations and respond in a controlled manner.
Virtual reality in dentistry
Virtual reality training is not only confined to medical schools as dentistry is another area where it plays a vital role. For instance, there is a program commonly referred to as ’HapTEL’, based on haptics (Greek meaning for touch) which is used to train dentists. This virtual dentist’s chair is characterized by training scenarios in which students are shown a set of 3D teeth that they are required to work on. They could be asked to perform a range of procedures such as tooth fillings using a virtual drill that replicates the pressure and movement of a real drill, all of which are enabled by force feedback. This feedback is usually in the form of subtle pressure changes which enables participating students to adjust their technique accordingly.
Virtual reality in preventative medicine
Virtual training can be used to educate patients about the benefits of adopting positive lifestyle changes e.g. exercise, healthy eating, moderate alcohol intake, quitting smoking etc. This is in line with the emphasis on educating people about making positive changes about their health which should, in the long run, reduce the risk of illnesses, most of which can be avoided. Both fully immersive and desktop CAVE systems can be used in the demonstration of the effects of negative lifestyle habits such as what smoking does to the body.
Virtual reality in Counseling
Counseling is yet another area where virtual training has been used in hospitals. A classic example is in the treatment of phobias e.g. a fear of public speaking where sufferers are able to build up their confidence and learn skills in a virtual environment. Phil Carey, one of the pioneers of Sydney’s Corporate Videography industry explained that,
” Virtual reality allows operators to engage in any environment without the absence of danger. The results allow for more streamlined training that can be monitored and more easily improved upon.”
Carey Seen Below in this video explains exactly how he uses VR for both corporate and medical training:
It can also be used to treat people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as soldiers who have served on the front lines. Here patients can be taught various techniques for dealing with their symptoms using virtual reality. This can take the form of head mounted displays (HMDs) or a pair of virtual reality glasses, data gloves, and input devices e.g. joysticks.