Virtual reality (VR) technology has come a long way since its early days when pioneers like Jaron Lanier began experimenting with VR headsets and peripherals.
Although Lanier has been dubbed “the godfather of virtual reality”, Palmer Luckey really kicked off the modern VR revolution with his Oculus brand.
Oculus has since been acquired by Meta (formerly Facebook), and today’s headsets like the Meta Quest 2 and the brand’s upcoming Cambria headset promise new ways for people to interact in the “metaverse”.
Whether this new way of interacting becomes widely adopted or not remains to be seen, but VR tech has shown a lot of promise in areas like education simulation, design collaboration and even in medical training.
How Medical VR Is Changing Healthcare
VR technology has the ability to not only teleport users into lifelike 3D spaces, but it also gives them the ability to interact with these spaces.
With the rise in popularity of telehealth services and a need to reach underserved regions with remote healthcare services, VR is poised to provide a much-needed boost to the medical community and to patients.
In fact, the tech has already shown promise as a therapeutic tool, and VR can also be used to connect doctors and patients without the need for in-person office visits.
As evidenced by lockdowns and travel restrictions put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, the ability to remotely deliver healthcare is of great importance to the medical community.
Aside from the clinical applications that VR has the potential to fulfill, medical training is another area of medicine where VR can serve an important purpose.
The ability to train surgeons using a VR simulator opens up greater possibilities than ever before as VR gives students the ability to actually practice surgical techniques instead of merely watching them or practicing on cadavers.
Surgeon Simulator VR Capabilities And Advantages
Today’s VR headsets and peripherals not only provide six degrees of freedom (6DoF), offering a full 360 degrees of movement, but they can also include things like haptic feedback.
This type of feedback offers a tactile response to touch, giving surgery students the chance to understand elements like pressure and texture in a surgical setting.
In a VR operating room, virtual objects can be manipulated with precision, meaning objects like surgical instruments, virtual patients and virtual monitoring equipment can all be manipulated as if these items were truly in the room with the student.
Another exciting capability of today’s medical VR is the introduction of mixed reality solutions. Mixed reality (MR), also sometimes referred to as augmented reality, is a type of VR technology that displays an overlay of a virtual environment mixed in with the real world.
This type of technology is available through platforms like Fundamental Surgery, a medical learning tool for medical training. Through the use of MR, students can work in a real operating room using a mix of real and virtual equipment to carry out surgical tasks while interacting with one another as well as instructors.
One of the biggest advantages of VR surgery applications is that they allow surgeons to practice without risk, and the use of VR training can potentially reduce risks in real surgeries as well.
In a real-world scenario, surgical procedures can come with a number of potentially negative outcomes, including bleeding, injury to the patient and a host of variables for which a surgeon may not be prepared.
By using realistic VR in surgery training simulations, student surgeons can make mistakes, correct them and experience the challenges and responses to unplanned events.
VR Medical Training Vs. Traditional Teaching Tools
Virtual surgery software produced by companies like FundamentalVR also allows multiple users to practice surgical techniques. In a traditional learning environment, surgeons-in-training must either take turns working on a cadaver or pathological specimen or they must watch as only one student or instructor performs a procedure.
Because medical cadavers and pathological specimens that meet the requirements for medical practice are in relatively short supply, this can limit a medical student’s ability to experience a surgical procedure from start to finish.
A VR surgery can be reset again and again with different variables to allow each student to undergo the same training and experience the same changing circumstances as all of the other students.
This standardizes medical education and has the potential to lead to better-equipped medical professionals. It also allows software developers to create customized scenarios for different types of surgery with different variables that a surgeon is likely to face in a real operating room.
Another big benefit of using VR training over traditional medical training is that it can counter the concept of “skill fade”. Skill fade occurs when a medical professional only encounters a particular type of healthcare matter infrequently.
Because skills needed to handle these infrequent situations are not practiced as often as skills used in everyday treatment, the potential for skills to become less sharp exists.
By using VR training for surgery and other types of medical treatments, medical professionals can practice these scenarios on a regular basis, thereby mitigating the effects of skill fade.