The study of medicine, especially surgery, has always been a very hands-on process. Medical trainees spend years under the supervision of experienced doctors, learning by practicing on whoever is wheeled through the doors of the hospital. As every case of surgery comes with its own set of challenges, surgeons are forced to learn in a high-pressure environment.
In a field where even a small mistake can prove fatal, Virtual Reality provides us the unique opportunity to impart skills without endangering lives. A much higher rate of surgical success can be achieved by recreating fully immersive environments to conduct training in.
The use of AR/VR in surgery was predicted way back in the 1990s by the US Army Colonel Richards in his seminal paper “The King is Dead”. Expounding on the effects of the information revolution in medicine, he predicted that AR/VR in surgery would be omnipresent by the 2000s. While he wasn’t entirely accurate in forecasting the rate of change, his vision for the technology to evolve all aspects of surgery was uncanny – and is now coming to fruition.
Image Courtesy: vectorfusionart from Adobe Stock
Uses of VR in Surgery
There have been multiple attempts to incorporate simulation training in surgical education – however, until recently, their scope has been limited. Due to the lack of proper haptic and visual immersion, such simulations have either proven to be ineffective or only applicable for highly simplified tasks. With emerging tech, the scope of usage has expanded far beyond training – here’s a look at 3 ways in which AR/VR is changing the field:
1. Surgical Training
Typically, a surgeon takes 10 to 20 repetitions to gain proficiency in a particular procedure. As the number of procedures a surgeon must learn increases, the learning curve is becoming steeper and far more strenuous. This intense pressure has serious repercussions – a recent WHO report documents the drop in quality of surgical procedures, reporting that post-surgical complications are the third leading cause of death within the ambit of medical care.
With improving haptics and headset technology, simulation-based surgical training modules simulations are quickly becoming a possibility – as well as a necessity. FundamentalsVR has unveiled a state-of-the-art training simulation that uses high-tech haptic kinesthetic feedback to create a precise model for surgeons to practice upon. This added step of practice between theoretical knowledge and real-life application is a demonstrably effective way to improve overall accuracy of surgical procedures.
Image Courtesy: lenets_tan from Adobe Stock
2. Patient Education and Assurance
Surgical procedures are intrinsically invasive. As a result, most patients experience anxiety regarding these interventions – some even opting out of procedures out of fear of complications.
A large part of this anxiety is owed to lack of understanding; not having a clear picture of what to expect interferes with patients’ ability to make the best decisions regarding their care. To address this, researchers and surgical students at Stanford Medical School are using VR to educate patients about planned procedures.
Patients in the program have reported feeling calmer about their impending surgeries, and reassured about their treatment plans. This added layer of transparency between doctors and patients has helped reinforce trust between the two parties.
3. Live Surgery Assistance
Due to the interconnectedness of the human body, even simple surgical procedures can lead to unexpected complications. This compounds the complexity of the tasks that surgeons have to perform – the consequent data sets to account for are simply too many.
With the evolving use of AR/VR in surgery, a combination of MRIs, CT scans and other body imaging can be used to create virtual twins of the affected organ. These replicas can be used to plan procedures, anticipate complications and create AR surgical guides to assist medical practitioners in providing the best possible care for their patients.
Image Courtesy: Yingyaipumi from Adobe Stock
Medivis, in conjunction with Microsoft Hololens, has created a surgical assistance suite that projects anatomically-correct AR visuals of the body. Surgeons can use this visual guidance to make the right decisions during surgery, while also minimizing the damage to surrounding tissues and bone.
Being a surgeon has been one of the most stressful occupations, ever since its inception 2000 years ago. All advances in the field have been made through trial and error, often at the cost of human life. This extremely high-stakes environment can be less error-prone through strategic use of AR/VR tech. The immersive visual experience provided by AR/VR tech can replicate the process of surgery without the risk of failure, ensuring that all surgical students receive ample training before they face a real case.