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Virtual Reality In Healthcare Assists Surgery, Medical Education


By Elizabeth O’Dowd

October 02, 2017 – Virtual reality in healthcare is developing as new applications are developed to cater to the healthcare industry, according to a recent report from Kalorama Information.

“In its earlier manifestation, virtual reality was hardly equipped for the medical arena,” said report authors. “Physicians didn’t have the time, hospitals didn’t have the space and budgets didn’t have the money to fully entertain VR’s potential in healthcare.”

The report discovered that the use of virtual reality and augmented reality have the most potential in surgical settings. The technology can help surgeons gain precision and is also seen as an addition to anticipated robot-assisted surgery.  

Medical education and training, pain management and rehabilitation, and therapy are several of the other top uses the report identified.

“Augmented reality or ‘mixed reality,’ integrates, injects or superimposes virtual elements and visualizations over the real world,” report authors explained. “Via virtual reality in healthcare applications, VR technology is able to produce VEs such as an operating room, surgical site, patient anatomy, or therapeutic simulation.”

The report qualified virtual reality or augmented reality applications based on their ability to manipulate medical imaging data or other inputs to generate virtual environments or overlay virtual elements over the user’s sight.  

Virtual and augmented reality in surgery are closely tied with surgical navigation and robot-assisted surgery. Organizations hope to eventually embrace virtual and augmented reality to help surgeons work more quickly and accurately, and eliminate potential human error during surgery.

The technologies are not expected or built to take the place of surgeons, but are meant to assist surgeons by providing information that can help them make quicker and more accurate decisions.

Education is also a highly anticipated use of virtual and augmented reality. Surgical simulators and virtual anatomy systems are proving to be valuable tools for training surgeons and other medical professionals by simulating real-life scenarios in a realistic view.

The report, Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education, said that there are many challenges in healthcare education and augmented reality can provide learning opportunities where “virtual learning experiences can be embedded in a real physical context.”

The Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education study found that 96 percent of the material studied claimed that augmented reality (AR) is useful for improving healthcare education. The material outlined benefits of educational AR to include decreased amount of practice, reduced failure rate, improved performance accuracy, accelerated learning, and better understanding of special relationships.

While AR has many education benefits, the study also pointed out several drawbacks, including a lack of learning theories available to guide AR design. Traditional learning theories do not match up to the AR learning style, the study added.

A military medic training study using AR goggles to reduce preventable causes of death on the battle field found that medical students using the AI goggles were able to treat the cadaver model more accurately than students relying only on memory in a high pressure situation.

Many healthcare AR deployments include the use of smartglasses, which have lost popularity with consumers over the past several years but still have a place in medical AR.

Smartglasses can be used in a variety of ways, including walking patients through future surgical procedures and immersion therapy for patients who suffer from anxiety or phobias. They have the potential to collect much of the data clinicians need to use.

Smartglasses can be used in operating rooms and patient bedsides so they can assist clinicians in treating patients more effectively. When incorporated with other health IT systems such as analytics and EHRs, users can access the relevant information instantly and use it to make more informed decisions.

Widespread implementation of AR in healthcare is still years away, but organizations can begin to realize the practical future applications of the technology.



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