Apr 19 2018

Healthcare Teams Gain Edge by Using VR, AR for Surgery, Training

Virtual and augmented realities can help boost the confidence of teams caring for patients and in the operating room.

Virtual reality and augmented reality have increasingly found their way into the operating room and 2018 may prove to be the year that VR and AR truly begin to influence care.

Already, providers and researchers are testing how virtual reality can be used to manage pain in patients, but with the medical VR market set to explode from $8.9 million in 2017 to $285 million in 2022, according to ABI Research, new use cases are coming into focus every day.

Innovative Providers Pioneer AR, VR Surgeries

In March, Texas surgeons were the first in the country to perform a minimally invasive procedure with the help of AR. They tapped the tech to plan a route and visualize critical structures, which was overlaid on endoscopic views of the area, MobiHealthNews reports.

“[AR], which uses 3D mapping and imagery, enhances our understanding of complex anatomy so surgical procedures are more precise,” Martin J. Citardi, chair of the department of otorhinolaryngology, head and neck surgery at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center where the procedure was performed, said in a statement. “The addition of [AR] to a surgical navigation serves as a GPS-like system and offers patients the benefits of minimally invasive surgery with lower risks and better outcomes.”

Moreover, at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, clinicians tapped Microsoft’s HoloLens AR technology in order to overlay CT scan images onto a patient’s leg during a reconstructive surgery, according to a recently released study published in European Radiology Experimental.

“We are one of the first groups in the world to use the HoloLens successfully in the operating theatre,” Philip Pratt, a research fellow in the department of surgery & cancer at the Imperial College London and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Through this initial series of patient cases we have shown that the technology is practical, and that it can provide a benefit to the surgical team. With the HoloLens, you look at the leg and essentially see inside of it. You see the bones, the course of the blood vessels, and can identify exactly where the targets are located.”

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Planning, Training Get a Boost with VR, AR

The use of this technology in the operating room is still very new, however, and perhaps the most poignant use case for VR and AR at the moment is prior to procedures, for planning and training purposes.

Recently, a team of researchers from Stanford University released a study that found that VR imaging gives radiologists more confidence when diagnosing an issue while it can also give specialists more conviction when heading into difficult procedures. The study specifically looked at treating splenic artery aneurysms.

“Treating splenic artery aneurysms can be very difficult because of their intricate nature and anatomic variations from patient to patient,” Dr. Zlatko Devcic, a fellow of interventional radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine and an author of the study, said in a statement, MobiHealthNews reports. “This new platform allows you to view a patient’s arterial anatomy in a three-dimensional image, as if it is right in front of you, which may help interventional radiologists more quickly and thoroughly plan for the equipment and tools they’ll need for a successful outcome.”

Meanwhile, innovative providers such as MedStar Health, which operates 10 hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington metro area, are using the technology for immersive training.

“Our research shows that virtual simulation is as good as or better than traditional training methods,” William Sheahan, director of the MedStar Simulation Training & Education Lab (MedStar SiTEL) in Washington, D.C., tells HealthTech.

During VR training on MedStar’s program, Trauma: Yellow, the trainees are presented with seven emergency scenarios in 20-minute drills that are designed to immerse them in an emergency room environment and test their ability to quickly and calmly handle patients. Afterward, the team is debriefed with suggestions on how to improve and better undertake a real-life ER scenario.

“We plan to use VR for many other types of case-based learning and more complex emergency training,” Sheahan says. “In the next couple of years, I expect we’ll build a virtual world where we’ll be able to see important results.”

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