New Developments in VR & Surgery


Virtual reality (VR) has garnered a lot of interest in the past several years as it has transitioned from a clunky, niche toy to an opportunity to shake up how every industry functions. This has caused VR not only to get cheaper from a hardware perspective, but also to become less expensive to produce. Using simple simulation building tools and 360 degree cameras, content that is best experienced through a VR headset is expanding. This opportunity is spreading into unexpected areas, namely, the medical field.


Affordable Models

Companies have been jumping at the chance to get into VR — with some companies making low-end VR possible with just cardboard and a simple smartphone. These VR experiences are nowhere near as interactive as some of the more expensive models, but they show that businesses are eager to invest in the technology.


Since Google successfully launched their own line of smartphones, they have been heavily investing in the capabilities of their Pixel line. Dubbed ‘Google Daydream,’ this is a portable VR platform that you can download straight onto your phone and use wherever. The only purchases necessary to use this service are an affordable cardboard headset to hold the phone and a controller accessory that allows you to interact with the virtual world.


Even Tech-giant Facebook has even recently released their own VR headset. Trying bridge the gap between clunky and extreme VR consoles, Oculus Go sets out to bring a more mainstream product for VR consumers. Facebook has achieved this by including everything you need to experience VR in the headset and by keeping it at an affordable $200. The simplicity and price point are a great incentive for curious consumers to give VR a chance.


Advanced Models

While smaller VR products are attractive to casual users, companies that have invested heavily into this industry are making significant strides in VR’s capabilities.


HTC is leading the pack in high-powered VR headsets. While not cheap (the new VIVE Pro goes for about $800 on Amazon) HTC has developed the most immersive VR experience to date. By significantly increasing the resolution of the dual-OLED display, adding dual facing microphone and cameras, and introducing built-in headphones, HTC is setting the bar for what users should expect from their VR experiences.


Samsung is one of HTC’s top competitors when it comes to pushing high-end VR consoles to market. The Samsung Odyssey is good choice if you want to get a quality VR console but don’t want to drop $800 (you can find it for a little under $500). The console ships with built-in spatial headphones, two motion controllers, and it’s a member of the Windows Mixed Reality family so is fully compatible with Windows devices. By showing the possibilities of VR, HTC and Samsung have convinced customers and developers to take VR seriously as a platform.


VR Surgery Films

While most people think of VR as something fun to play with friends on a Friday night, it does have the potential to make positive impacts on the world. Medical students have a hard time getting practice with invasive procedures during their studies. Cadavers are expensive and disposable, while videos can’t give surgeons the confidence needed when doing an operation when a life is on the line.


Surgeons at The Royal London Hospital are trying to use VR to give surgeons hands-on experience with difficult operations. In VR, two surgeons successfully completed the first recorded aneurysm clipping. With aneurysms being one of the most difficult procedures, this technology has the potential to save lives and help doctors prevent unforeseen mistakes.


These advancements in the virtual market have also benefited the casual learners. An app called ‘Touch Surgery’ aims to help professionals and patients better understand complex surgeries. Available on IOS and Android, users that download the app have access to 3-D renderings of over 75 medical procedures right in their pockets. With ambitions to add even more, Touch Surgery’s goal is to educate patients on their upcoming surgeries and easily introduce surgeons to new tools and techniques from the comfort of their living rooms. While it may not be the most lifelike simulation, it’s a fine entry point for those with general interest in the topic before moving up to more 1:1 surgery simulations.


Advancements in Market for True Immersive Education

Simple education apps are allowing patients to understand their complex procedures in more detail, but more advanced VR systems are giving the surgeons the opportunity to practice rare, and dangerous cases.


Surgeons in India seized the power of VR to prepare for the separation of craniopagus twins conjoined at the head. There have only been about 50 attempts at this procedure — with only a 25% success rate. The rarity and seriousness of this situation motivated the surgeons to do anything possible to increase the chances of a successful operation.


Using ImmersiveTouch's VR platform, they created an accurate rendering of the twins’ fused brains with CT, MRI and angiogram imaging. This enabled the surgeons to create a surgical plan and gain a more in-depth understanding of what was going to happen prior to entering the operating room.


Being diagnosed with a serious ailment is scary and confusing, but VR has the potential to ease some of the stress of the situation. Stanford Medicine has started using 3-D renderings of people’s individual cases to help inform the patient on their medical issue. Using the patient’s actual scans, the doctor is then able to give the patient a virtual tour of what their actual procedure will entail — creating an understanding and trust between the patient and doctor. This technique has shown to calm patients before undergoing surgery and even convinced some people to choose such VR tours over less advanced consultations available at other hospitals in the area.


Continue Watching Developments in VR

From cell phone games to providing surgeons a training ground for rare surgeries, technology has dramatically changed the way medicine is approached, even in just the last few years. A change that will ultimately lead to better training, better patient outcomes, and a safer, healthier world.


Brandi Madar