As we discovered in Part 1, virtual reality is proving to be a powerful tool for the treatment of mental health disorders such as severe paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder, and the technology can be used to help patients gain control over pain management. However, it’s not just the patients who are benefiting from virtual reality, as doctors, surgeons and healthcare providers are employing this technology to better understand and treat illnesses.
Virtual reality is offering the healthcare industry unprecedented opportunities to train, teach and ensure high standards are constantly maintained. On Thursday 14th of April 2016, Dr Shafi Ahmed performed the world’s first 360-degree video live streamed operation. The operation permitted students, surgeons and strangers to witness the procedure in real time via Medical Realities, a healthcare group specializing in virtual reality, augmented reality and serious games for patients.
The operation was shot using two 360-degree cameras plus a collection of lenses placed around the operating theatre. The operation was viewed using a VR headset and Mativision’s VRinOR app, and those without a headset were able to watch the stream through an online feed. Ahmed, a cancer surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust, said he believed that VR technology could make the healthcare industry more equitable and improve training for surgeons on a global basis. Ahmed noted that this new approach is far more cost-effective than the existing teaching model, which typically requires students to pay large fees to study abroad. It also results in an improved educational experience compared to traditional methods.
The operation was a success for both the patient and those watching, acting as further proof of the value of a virtual reality integrated healthcare industry. Virtual reality supports greater impartiality in healthcare, and enables students to learn from the world’s best surgeons without having to leave their home. Dr Ahmed is looking forward to future VR healthcare developments, and hopes to soon be able to add graphics to footage and provide watchers with additional information relevant to the procedure they’re viewing.
3D CaT scans
Medical imaging is another healthcare process benefiting from virtual reality. Medical imaging is used to create detailed representations of the body’s interior for visual clinical analysis, allowing doctors to diagnose and treat diseases otherwise hidden by skin and bone. Medical imaging processes such as CT, MRI and ultrasound scans are conventionally viewed as 2D images, but new technology from American company EchoPixel is helping doctors to examine patient scans from any angle.
EchoPixel’s True 3D Viewer 1.0 utilizes 3D glasses and a special display to make patient scans stand out from a screen like a hologram. The scan can be moved around, magnified and minimized, and specific parts of a patient’s scan can be pulled out of the image for more in-depth analysis. The doctor uses a hand-directed stylus to guide the scan as if it were a real object, enabling users to visualize and interact with organs and tissue in an open 3D space as opposed to a 2D monitor. EchoPixel’s technology results in heightened image perception and a stronger anatomical understanding, assisting doctors in speeding up their processes. Clinical studies found the True 3D Viewer 1.0 to improve newborn congenital heart defect detection by 90%, and speed up the process by 40%. EchoPixel’s tech is already approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and is currently seeking approval for use in Europe and Asia.
EHR via AR
Similar to EchoPixel’s tech in what it offers, but different in that it uses augmented reality rather than full virtual reality modelling, Augmedix’s wearable technology is helping doctors improve productivity and patient care. The tech uses Google Glass to enable instantaneous access to electronic health records, and as a result increases face-to-face time with patients. Hands free charting, real-time documentation and information management can all be done on the fly, and the technology is HIPAA-compliant.
Augmedix currently enjoys a 99% global patient acceptance rate. The tech is used in almost 50 states across America, resulting in improved physician services for up to 5,000 patients daily. With the backing of five of the biggest healthcare systems in the U.S., it’s very likely that Augmedix’s augmented reality technology will soon become commonplace in healthcare systems around the world.
Virtual reality and augmented reality is improving the healthcare industry for patients and providers alike. From 3D rendered medical imaging to live-streamed cancer operations, VR tech is providing surgeons, doctors and physicians with new means to diagnose and treat illnesses. This technology enhances patient experience and enables providers to focus on the task at hand. Virtual reality benefits healthcare regardless of its application, and we should expect to see widespread adoption of this technology by the industry over the next few years.
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