What is the Importance of Virtual Reality to Doctors and Surgeons?

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Virtual and augmented reality programs just got admitted to hospitals across the U.S. – and not because the software is sick or dying. Doctors, surgeons and hospitals have eagerly embraced the potential of virtual reality, augmented reality and their related technologies. Doctors and surgeons at Stanford Medicine now use virtual reality software programs combined with MRIs, angiograms and CT scans to treat patients and plan surgeries in advance. With virtual reality, even patients can visualize the planned treatment ahead of time to help ease their minds.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

VR and AR software programs are important to the healthcare industry because:

  • Hospitals use it to teach new doctors, nurses and surgeons.
  • Doctors learn complex procedures using computer equipment.
  • Surgeons can map out complicated surgeries in advance.
  • Patients experience the medical procedure from the doctor's point of view.
  • The software provides means to calm and relax patients without drugs.
  • Psychiatrists and psychologists use it to treat anxiety disorders.

Hospitals and Virtual Reality

Dr. Ajit Sachdeva, director of education with the American College of Surgeons, recently told reporters for NBC News that "VR has reached a tipping point in medicine,” especially since it can incorporate X-rays, MRIs, CT and other scans in less than a minute. In emergency room situations, this can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Hospitals across the U.S. now use virtual reality in all areas of healthcare.

Patient Treatment

Even for minimally invasive treatments, VR headsets and programs can calm and relax patients who cannot use anesthesia or other drugs to control pain. While still in its infancy as a substitute for drugs in this way, NBC News reports the results are successful so far. The technology may be especially helpful for brain surgery because it lets surgeons complete a dry run first, allowing them to choose the best equipment for the actual operation. The software also gives surgeons and doctors the ability to choose the best surgical options and helps to minimize surprises. One doctor ran through the software program first before separating conjoined twins. It helped him see the complications that could arise in advance of the actual surgery.

Patient Participation

By putting on a VR headset with the loaded scans and images, patients can get a preview of the surgery the doctor wants to perform to help them better understand the process. But this isn't the only way that patients use medical VR. Psychiatrists and psychologists also use VR to help treat patients with bipolar disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, rehabilitation after a stroke and much more. The simulations put people into stressful situations so that doctors can teach them to recognize when these occur and teach them how to cope with them. These simulations help cancer patients treat pain and anxiety and gives them tools for self-management. When paired with an experimental robotic bodysuit and repeated training, it has also helped paraplegic subjects in a study regain muscle control.

The Future of Virtual Medicine

Right now, teaching hospitals use virtual reality to train doctors and teach surgeons, help patients to mitigate pain and anxiety, and learn new coping mechanisms. Doctors and patients can work through surgeries or other medical treatments together before they occur so that the patient gains confidence in the procedure. Though in its infancy, experts say that VR and augmented-reality healthcare treatment is and will continue to change the face of healthcare for years to come by adding new jobs that don't exist as of today and opening new avenues of exploration and medical treatment for the human body. These software programs continue to create innovations in the teaching environment, reduce the high costs associated with training and provide new opportunities for doctors and patients to learn through actualization and simulation.


About the Author

As a journalist and editor for several years, Laurie Brenner has covered many topics in her writings, but science is one of her first loves. Her stint as Manager of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in California's gold country served to deepen her interest in science which she now fulfills by writing for online science websites. Brenner is also a published sci-fi author. She graduated from San Diego's Coleman College in 1972.