Virtual reality puts physicians, trainees – even you – right in the operating room

[It’s certainly not the first use of presence-evoking technologies for medical, even surgical, training but this story from the University of Virginia emphasizes the ease of use, low cost, soon-to-be wide availability and important benefits of VR recordings of surgeries for a variety of audiences. The linked video clip mentioned near the end of the story is only 30 seconds long, but for more information and a 9 minute video see the PR Newswire press release. –Matthew]

[Image: Dr. Ziv Haskal has created a virtual procedure that puts the viewer right in the operating room with him. Credit: Josh Barney, UVA Health System]

Virtual Reality Puts Physicians, Trainees – Even You – Right In The Operating Room

March 19, 2018
Josh Barney

Physicians, trainees and even laypeople can now experience what it’s like inside an operating room as an expert radiologist performs one of the most difficult medical procedures of its kind.

Dr. Ziv Haskal of the University of Virginia Health System has created a dramatic teaching tool using the power of virtual reality. Whether watched on a high-end VR system or an inexpensive cardboard viewer, Haskal’s virtual procedure puts the viewer right in the operating room with him as he creates a new blood vessel through a small nick in a patient’s neck.

It’s a complicated procedure – Haskal calls it an “interventional radiology heptathlon” – and his use of VR is set to transform how it is taught. “The current means of teaching is a physical person has to arrive … and go over with the doc beforehand. Or they have to look at a lousy 2-D animation on a screen,” Haskal said. “Once you put [VR] glasses on people, it’s like you walk them through a completely different door.”

OR in VR

From inside the VR goggles, viewers can look around in 360 degrees as the procedure, known as a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt, unfolds around them. Haskal guides them step-by-step through the entire procedure, and strategic use of picture-in-picture lets the viewer see both what Haskal is doing and what he is seeing.

Haskal designed the VR experience as a teaching tool for physicians and trainees, but he can foresee many other game-changing applications. VR might be used to show a patient what to expect during a procedure, to teach a nursing student what must be kept sterile in an operating room or to provide a refresher for physicians who have not performed the procedure recently.

“Watching it in a 2-D animation, listening to a lecture, or watching a physician on a video simply fails to convey the subtleties of the procedure,” Haskal said. “We’re putting the viewer in the actual environment, where they can return again and again.”

Lifting the Curtain (in Virtual Reality)

Haskal debuted the VR tool over the weekend at the SIR 2018 Scientific Meeting in Los Angeles. He plans to make the VR publicly available to everyone, for free, on the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology website. (Video clips from the VR video can’t do it justice, but to get a sneak peek at what it’s like, visit UVA’s Making of Medicine medical research blog.)

Ultimately, Haskal hopes to create many more virtual-reality teaching tools for health care professionals. “With this approach,” he said, “doctors are simply going to be able to do things better.”

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