By Charlie Fink | September 28, 2017

(Forbes) - Because Doctors are scientists and scientists are all about identifying, analyzing and solving problems, they are always among the first to harness new technology to improve the health of their patients. With health representing 20% of the U.S. economy and tech over 10%, scale dictates that tiny improvements in either sector have a huge impact.

Slight improvements in training, a slightly better test or tool, or a faster diagnosis, have the potential to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. As a result, we’re finding a lot of early innovation in new virtual and augmented reality technology in medicine.

We see seven themes emerging from new VR and AR apps for health: (1) training (2) education (3) visualization (4) psychology (5) Telehealth and telesurgery (6) screen consolidation and (7) physical training, health, and fitness. This article will focus exclusively on the applications of Virtual Reality – fully replacing the world with a realistic digital simulation of patient-specific anatomy and pathology.

Augmented Reality, which puts data in the user’s field of view, like a pilot’s “heads-up display” (HUD), has many compelling applications to offer the medical profession. With tips from sources, we found one AR Health startup, Echopixel, in stealth mode that wants to map CT scans on real patients. Doctors are surrounded by screens all day, but they have to look away from the patient to see them. AR headsets solve this problem while opening up whole new areas for innovation and augmentation. A lot of technological change is going to manifest in health care first.

ImmersiveTouch of Chicago, Illinois founded in 2005, is surgical simulation company that uses Vive and Rift Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), patient-specific anatomy and haptic (tactile) feedback in order to train surgeons and team members, and educate patients themselves. The company provides modules for Neurosurgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Ophthalmology, ENT, and MIS procedures “This technology represents a major shift in how VR technology is delivered to surgeons,” said Jay Banerjee, COO. "ImmersiveTouch training reduced surgical errors by 54% comparing a control group using current training methods." Dozens of elite medical and educational institutions including Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago are currently using ImmersiveTouch to train their residents with procedural modules using a library of generic cases.

“We are the first company in the nation to integrate VR based surgical training with haptic technology. This allows your hand to feel the resistance of a surgery and be able to tell the difference between skin, muscle, and bone while working on a 3D human patient," said Pat Banerjee, Ph.D., CEO of ImmersiveTouch. “The Mission Rehearsal virtual reality environment is a vast improvement over the distortions of x-rays and other traditional imaging that can misrepresent the challenges inherent in the patient’s anatomy."

Surgeons at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi recently used the ImmersiveTouch Mission Rehearsal virtual reality surgical platform to prepare for an extremely rare surgical procedure to separate Siamese twins co-joined at the head. Using VR and haptic robots that feel like a patient, surgeons were able to immerse themselves in a 3D virtual operating room. “We could see, feel and study connected tissue, discuss anatomy, and examine surgical pathways to practice the surgery multiple times and plan the most effective surgical roadmap,” said Dr. Deepak Gupta, who led the surgical team of 40.

Dwight Mann