Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation of a real life environment. It fully immerses the user mainly by stimulating hearing and vision. Augmented reality (AR) goes even further to enhance the user experience and make it more meaningful by enabling users to interact with an existing reality.
AR and VR are most commonly associated with gaming. However, they have uses in many other areas such as engineering, architecture, media etc. One such area is medicine. AR and VR are used in many areas of healthcare ranging from training to diagnosis and treatment.
The use of AR and VR in training the future generations of doctors has shown to be very beneficial as it enables medical students to acquire knowledge and understanding about the human body by means of interaction within a virtual environment.
A number of apps and systems have been developed to help students study the anatomy of the human body via AR and VR. One of the main examples of this is Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality system, which shows hovering 3D holograms. In some institutes, it may actually end up replacing the teaching done with cadavers. This system can also allow students to practise surgical procedures and other key skills.
AR and VR can allow medical students to perform ‘hands-on’ procedures and practice key clinical skills in a safe environment, in which they can make mistakes without any risk to the patient. They can then apply these skills in the real world.
Aside from training, AR and VR have been making a mark in clinical medicine too. In April 2016 the first live cancer surgery was broadcast via virtual reality by Dr Shafi Ahmed to anyone in the world wearing a Google Cardboard or any similar virtual reality viewer.
Once developed further, this reality technology can be a major game-changer in remote surgery. Surgery is a highly specialised skill and several patients have lost their lives as they didn’t have access to a good surgeon. With VR, surgical specialists can treat patients all over the world without having to go anywhere. One of the first surgeons to use a remote-controlled robot to perform surgery was Dr. Mehran Anvari. This could potentially save thousands of lives every year.
As reality technology evolves, it is only a matter of time before AR and VR become part of everyday practice.