Virtual Reality‌ ‌Training‌ ‌Boost‌ ‌Surgeons’‌ ‌Results‌ ‌

How is VR Transforming Surgeries?

The technological revolution is transforming every aspect of human life, and healthcare is no exception. Surgeons continually seek out technologies that improve their operational environment. 

Medical researchers have been studying virtual reality since the 1990s, and thanks to developments in technology and computer graphics VR has become more accessible, affordable, applicable and flexible.

Opportunities for VR surgical healthcare

VR refers to completely immersive, dynamic, adaptive, and interactive technology. VR has major advantages.

VR democratizes surgery:

Currently, there are many factors that hinder surgeons’ learning, such as the quality of education in a given country, the presence of experienced surgeons that serve as mentors and the training time of students. All are significantly reduced with virtual reality technology.

VR decreases operating room mistakes:

Errors occur throughout healthcare, but in surgery, the risks and stakes are too high. Thomas & Brennan’s investigate the annual incident rate in surgeries and find that half were preventable. Given surgeon’s quest to improve patient safety, VR is a great opportunity to reduce errors. 

“What we learn in medical school doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the real world. People are making mistakes that impact patients’ lives when potentially they could have been taught in a better, more practical way. Virtual reality gives you clinical experience on demand.” 

Jack Pottle, former NHS doctor

1. VR Surgical Training Prepares Surgeons for Perfection

When performing surgery, the foremost value is a patient’s health, which should never be experimented upon. In surgery, there are many issues that can arise, and virtual reality is an excellent tool for studying, exploring and experimenting with them. 

VR boosts anatomy education quality 

Surgeons can see the inner structure of patients. Factors that increase surgical complexity, such as body weight, age, smoking, and sleep apnea can be included. This increases the user’s understanding of ‘what’ impacts a surgery and ‘how’ this is impacted, maximizing efficacy. 

With VR, any technique can be trained, again and again. 

The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) stressed the need for residents to train with simulators prior to operating on patients. Samadbeik review study of minimally invasive techniques is just an example of the reported benefits VR brings to training. Specifically, 74% of studies showed a higher learning curve, and 87% of the cases illustrated higher accuracy, movement and dexterity.

VR enables a fully immersive experience across the operating room. 

Aside from the surgical skills themselves, there are many factors that contribute to the success of a surgery. Workflow, team dynamics, and the integration of additive technologies are all instructive for trainees and necessary for their learning. These are difficult to convey without being ‘present’ in the operating room and when a trainee finally is present, they are often focused on the skills themselves. 

“VR creates an opportunity to participate in a surgery with the full breadth and experience one would have if they were physically present.” 

Dr. Sam Browd, Interview with Healthcare IT New

2. VR Enables Telementoring, Telecollaboration and Teleconferences

Telementoring with VR 

Telementoring is the practice of providing education at a distance. When it comes to surgery, there are complications with a simple e-learning platform. But, when telementoring is combined with a VR experience, this is solved. 

Panait’s study of surgical trainees exemplifies that telementoring is as effective as local mentoring, when combined with a VR laparoscopic surgical simulator.
Students were given a tele-tutorial from a mentor abroad and then proceeded to train grasping, cutting, suturing and clip-applying. The telementoring group was as effective as the local mentoring group, without the costs and environmental impact of flying someone in. 

Telecollaboration in VR

Telecollaboration is the promotion of interaction and learning with advanced technologies. It is the practice of transporting remote collaborators (remote VR user, or VR – traveler) to a real-world high-fidelity environment where their partner (local AR user or AR – host) is present.

Telecollaboration in VR is useful for collaborative pre-surgery planning. Traditional collaboration is common in complex situations or cases that require the involvement of different surgical specialists, for example a colon surgeon, a thoracic surgeon and a gynecologic surgeon. Yet, traditional telecollaboration suffers from a lack of immersion and 3D experience.

Telecollaboration in VR is a solution now that data transmission speed is not a limiting variable. The usage of telecollaboration in VR pre-surgery planning to reduce the time and risk of bone surgery operations has been studied.

VR Teleconferences

The pandemic has halted medical conferences, denying surgeons the chance to learn and share knowledge. With VR Oculus headsets that can be acquired for less than 400$, a new world opens for VR teleconferences. This brings a series of advantages. 

  1. Higher retention rate: VR experience and exposure increases learning, as memory performance is heighted.
  2. Increased opportunities: VR demolishes contextual constraints in terms of attendees and spaces. For example, conferences could be held in a virtual operation room.
  3. Affordability: The same events are experienced at no extra commuting or hotel costs. This oftentimes heightens barriers of entry for those in geographically further locations, or surgeons with dependent family members.
  4. Public Safety: Health-related risks are eliminated because there are no public gatherings. This protects surgeons and patients who rely on them being able to work for their surgeries.
  5. Green Alternative: Because there is no need to fly, there are fewer carbon emissions and plastic waste.

3. Patient experience with VR

VR enables embodiment of patient experience. 

Surgeons are placed in the first-person perspective of the patient, to see, hear and feel like they do. 

This is possible because VR simulates the same mechanism as the brain, stimulating sensory receptors that prepell a response. Meaning, surgeons can experience specific symptoms and conditions, “walking into the patient’s shoes.” 

As they feel identified with their patient and better understand their feelings, empathy is increased. Empahy is a needed skill for surgeons when explaining the options of surgery and potential consequences of each. Empathetic surgeons are more likely to explain the pre-operative and post-operative stages in a more detailed manner, increasing patient safety and satisfaction. It is also a necessary skill when delivering bad news to the family. 

VR facilitates aspiring doctors prepare for difficult encounters and conversations with patients. VR simulators track data not only of what is said, but also how, as facial expressions and body movements can have an enormous impact. Usually, med schools do not prepare doctors for the soft skills that are needed in real-life.

VR soothes patients during surgical procedures 

VR can be used as an adjunct to anesthesia in the operating room. VR-based distractions are a useful alternative to general anesthesia, when only local is needed, reducing risks and side effects. 

Faruki’s study illustrates how VR technology reduces pain and anxiety in surgical patients undergoing upper gastrointestinal endoscopies, dental procedures and joint arthroplasties.

The positive results hint at a possible change of paradigms, where nonpharmacologic intervention reduces the problems of over-sedation and postoperative recovery while offering a satisfactory perioperative experience.

How can you start training with VR for surgeries?

VR has a wide variety of applications, for both the practitioners and the patients. If you are ready to boost surgical training and improve patient experience, contact MetaMedicsVR and receive a free consulting meeting with our VR healthcare specialist.