VR used as surgical anesthesia

[From Motherboard, where the story includes the two videos mentioned]

Oculus Rift used at Hospital Perpetuo Socorro

[Image: From a large photo gallery at ACFI PRESS]

This Is What It’s Like to Be Anesthetized by Virtual Reality

Written by Meghan Neal, Managing Editor
August 8, 2014

The strange link between virtual reality and mind-altering drugs is well-trodden territory here at Motherboard. We’ve explored tripping in Oculus Rift, treating heroin addiction with VR therapy, technoshamans replacing psychedelics with an immersive virtual experience, and a speculative future where virtual reality “jolting” is the illicit substance of choice.

Now here’s another drug being “disrupted” by VR technology: anesthesia. Yes, instead of lulling patients into a chemically induced unconscious before a major operation, doctors are calming those pre-surgery nerves with an Oculus headset and soothing digital simulations.

The device displays classically calming scenes: clouds rolling over the beach at dusk while Beethoven plays in the background, or visually striking fireworks and [a] balloon floating through the night sky. See for yourself [in the video] above, courtesy of Droiders, a Spanish medical software company that creates these simulations.

We reached out to the company following a report in the Guardian about the next-gen anesthetic, to see exactly what this high-tech procedure looks like from a patient’s perspective. I’m not gonna lie, I probably wouldn’t opt to forgo a good medical knock-out in favor of watching some CGI-style fireworks. But, the method has proven to be successful.

VR simulations can lower heart rate and blood reassure, and ease anxiety, eliminating the need for a general anesthetic, doctors say. The fully-immersive visual and audio experience blocks out the light and noise of the stressful operating room. Indeed, medical professionals have been experimenting with virtual anesthesia for a decade now, and the practice is regularly used at hospitals.

Last month, Perpetuo Socorro Hospital in Spain became the first to livestream (video above) an operation in which the patient forwent a gaseous sedation for a local anesthetic and Oculus Rift. “At first I was overwhelmed, but I gradually relaxed and I forgot where I was,” the patient said afterward, according to a hospital press release about the event.

And in case that’s not cyberpunk enough for you, the surgeon was also wearing Google Glass to augment the procedure. You check out that doctor’s-eye view in the second half of the [first] video [above].


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