While many fields allow for the use of “trial and error,” surgery is not one of them. Surgeons go through rigorous training that includes hours upon hours of observing operations first-hand either in a raised theater or scrubbing in and assisting the surgeon. A UK doctor decided to take that further yesterday, and became the first to live stream an operation in 360-degree virtual reality.
Virtual reality is a fantastic way to train surgeons
Dr. Shafi Ahmed at the Royal London Hospital on Thursday became the first surgeon to used 360-degree virtual reality capture in an operating theater. In addition to a public stream, the procedure was watched by medical students at Queen Mary University Hospital using the low-cost (often free) Google Cardboard VR viewer.
Beyond performing the surgery that saw him remove cancerous tissue from a patient’s colon, Dr. Ahmed also brought his company, Medical Realities, into the fold with its virtual reality knowledge and training. The video itself was shot by the 360-video production company Mativision. While those three all played important roles in this medical first, it would never have been possible without the patient’s consent.
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“I am honored that this patient has given permission for his experience to provide this unparalleled learning opportunity,” Dr Ahmed was quoted as saying.
“As a champion of new technology in medicine, I believe that virtual and augmented reality can revolutionise surgical education and training, particularly for developing countries that don’t have the resources and facilities of NHS hospitals,” he added.
Dr. Ahmed is no stranger to technology in his operating theater, or for that matter on his head.
In 2014, he was the first doctor to live-stream an operation using Google Glass; over 13,000 medical students worldwide watched that stream. However, with virtual reality he’s taken this a step further. And, he’s not done yet. While this is the first of its kind, the doctor wishes to take it incrementally forward as a teaching tool.
“[During an operation] I am teaching people, talking to them, there is communication going on — so it’ll be just an extension of that,” Ahmed told the Guardian. “Companies are really working on various gloves or bodysuits and devices so that it can replicate touch and feel.”
The stream itself explained
As mentioned, Mativision did the filming with two 360-cameras using a variety of lenses. While Mativision remains most known for their filming of stage performances by rock stars, the company looks to be branching out. While someday the technology will allow for more detailed filming, this endeavor was more interested in giving those watching an understanding of what it’s like to observe a surgery or get acquainted with an operating room.
According to Mativision, ahead of yesterday’s surgery, was “not to present close-ups, nor microscopic imagery,” but to “give the feeling of actually being in the room.”
While the company has every intention of offering close-ups in the future and even video from inside the body, yesterday was more of a trial run.
“What we can do right now, it’s based around filming real operations,” Steve Dann, co-founder of Medical Realities recently told Ars Technica. “Then we’ll transition over to creating a completely believable CGI environment you can inhabit. Finally, when the technology has caught up with what we want to do, we can add haptic feedback.”
“In an operating theater you have noises going on, you have stress levels, you have things going wrong, you have people passing things to you,” Ahmed told Ars in the same interview. “Everything’s around you and it’s hard to train people in that. It really is because, unless you’re in that environment, you don’t know how to behave.”
With one under their belt, we look forward to the next use of this exciting technology as a teaching tool.