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How VR & AR will transform the medical world 

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Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have power and appeal for one simple reason – they create a world where the impossible becomes possible. Just imagine what that could mean for healthcare… 

A transformation is about to, and arguably already is, taking place in the medical world. The world we think we know is shifting at an astronomical speed, as VR and AR make their way into health care and health tech. 

Eugene Canavan, medical design director at Design Partners (part of PA Consulting), shares his expert insights with Health Tech World, indicating how these breakthrough technologies will “revolutionise” medicine and surgical procedures.

Here’s what he had to say:

In recent years, augmented and virtual reality has transformed the medical arena, creating opportunities which are completely revolutionising medicine and surgical procedures.

These developments are moving at serious speed, with augmented and virtual reality in healthcare poised to become a $10 billion dollar market before long.

We’re seeing incredible things happen as a result of this rapid growth in VR healthcare technology. In August this year, a Great Ormond Street Hospital surgeon helped to successfully separate conjoined twins using virtual reality technology. 

The family, living in Brazil, were initially told the surgery was not viable. However, VR made it possible for several top surgeons from around the world to practise the incredibly complex procedure remotely for many months, to ensure they would get it right. This is perhaps the most tangible and recent example of the incredible feats VR medicine proposes.

Throughout the pandemic, remote technology and virtual collaboration tools were widely adopted. As the global health crisis disrupted medical services around the world, the sector was forced to adopt virtual systems and accelerate telemedicine services. 

VR – a vital tool for surgeons

During this time, VR became a vital tool to ensure trainee surgeons were able to continue developing their skills. Oculus headsets helped mimic real-life surgical procedures and scenarios, accelerating the rate of learning for many students. It may seem odd to use tools and technology akin to gaming, but during a time of extremely limited in-person contact, they created an environment which allowed the next generation of surgeons to learn and grow their skills.

VR has continued to be refined as a means to train both students and experienced medical professionals across a range of disciplines. Medical students and surgeons using VR can now explore accurate and real human anatomy including the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, muscles, and bones in a completely immersive and risk-free environment..

Better quality training means less time in the surgical suite, so if the accuracy of surgical procedures and anatomy can continue to be translated through VR, hospitals and universities will experience huge cost savings over the long-term.

But the benefits extend beyond just cost. We’re noticing that medical institutions are becoming more risk averse and that fewer people are willing to sign up for procedures in university teaching hospitals where students observe or partake as part of their training.

The future of virtual training

VR could put surgeons in a position where initial training doesn’t have to be physical, meaning by the time they reach the stage of assisting on a surgery, they are more proficient and knowledgeable. In turn, patients might be more willing to not only participate in procedures, but may have confidence in taking part in more advanced surgeries to ignite medical breakthroughs.

Although VR has the potential to revolutionise, more work needs to be done to ensure these simulations are absolutely watertight. 

After all, most surgeons are currently constrained by imaging technology that is largely 2D, using their fingers to feel tissue whilst looking up at screens. Any hardware being used alongside VR needs to be able to deliver an authentic haptic experience because there is no room for error once they get to a real operating table.

Gamers and surgeons share some important qualities including an appreciation of precision and accuracy, visual-spatial skills, depth perception ability, total immersion in a task, so designers have been returning again to the world of video games to try and solve these design issues.

Video game controllers and devices are incredibly adept at providing real time, haptic feedback – accurately emulating flesh and bone is far more complicated. Not impossible, but the repercussions of getting it wrong will be far more catastrophic, so the stakes are much higher.

As technology becomes more and more prevalent in the medical professional’s life, another design consideration is how we can ensure their comfort and health is optimised.

After all, these control devices will create new demands on their bodies, such as prolonged staring at a virtual screen, precision control, unconstrained posture.

Following the paradigm of successful gaming device designs, crafted for elite gaming athletes, will be the key to keeping surgeons immersed in the flow of remote surgery.

Know-how and technology emerging from the gaming sector has potential to revolutionise surgical training and procedures – to enhance in vitro visualisation, navigation and control for example – but there is still a lot to consider.

As a design and innovation consultancy with a proven track record of new technology integration, Design Partners are excited by these opportunities to elevate human potential in breaking new healthcare frontiers.

What is inspiring is the leaps and bounds that have happened in the field over a relatively short period of time, but how can this be accelerated?

The mix of collaboration among Medical Institutions, surgeons, and patients with forward thinking design strategies that encompass best-in-class healthcare and gaming expertise is a winning formula.

Remotely controlling robots for surgery 

Design Partners CDO, Cormac Ó Conaire added:  “The future of surgery will involve remotely controlling robots that perform operations in other locations to the healthcare professional, yet surgical devices are not meeting the expectations of surgeons’ needs.

“These future control devices will create new demands on the human body – prolonged staring at a virtual screen, precision control, unconstrained posture. The question is how can we keep surgeons immersed in the flow of remote surgery. 

“Gamers and surgeons share some important qualities including an appreciation of precision and accuracy, visual-spatial skills, depth perception ability, total immersion in a task, so we’ve been looking to the world of video games to try and solve these design issues.”

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  1. Pingback: Surgeon takes on a whole marathon to raise funds for breast cancer tech 

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