The first surgery in the world to be broadcast live via virtual reality (VR) took place in London yesterday. The VR surgery was shown live and was pioneered by Dr Shafi Ahmed, a cancer surgeon at the Royal London Hospital.
He was the first doctor to livestream an operation while wearing Google Glass back in 2014 and has experimented with 360 degree cameras before. The live surgery is the work of a partnership between Barts Health, Medical Realities, Dr Ahmed’s healthcare company which specializes in VR and augmented reality training, and Mativision, a company that live streams VR and 360 degree video.
The operation was performed on a British man in his 70s with colon cancer and was streamed to thousands of medical students and other persons who cared to tune in by watching on VR headsets such as £10 Google Cardboard and their smartphones.
The operation which was to be filmed on two 360 degree cameras with multiple lenses was broadcast a minute behind the surgery in case of any unforeseen complications. The viewers were able to walk around the theater to see the operation from different angles and zoom in on the movements of the Doctors. Students who were at a different hospital nearby were also provided with VR headsets and were able to help Dr Ahmed throughout the surgery from their seminar rooms.
Dr Ahmed who performed the VR Surgery has through his Medical Realities company, explored the use of Virtual reality in different medical treatments. He spoke on why he felt the procedure was necessary; “I believe that virtual reality and augmented reality can revolutionise surgical education and training, particularly for developing countries that don’t have the resources and facilities of NHS hospitals…I am very excited about the expansion of this program to bring more medical learning to the world.”
He is not wrong. A 2015 report by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery revealing that about five billion people worldwide do not have access to safe surgery meaning that a global shortage of about two million surgeons, anesthetists and obstetricians will need to be trained over the next 15 years to combat that reality. This will prove particularly difficult in developing countries where medical training is hindered by lack of equipment, cadavers and the likes when put side by side with the amount of students and so VR Surgery could prove especially useful.
Students could stream surgical videos of Doctors and professors from top schools and all they would require to do this is a smartphone’s 3G or 4G connection.” Speaking to Wired, Dr. Ahmed also notes that even this is merely a first step to what he calls the virtual surgeon. He explains this as a project that involves shifting from live-capture VR to full computer-rendered simulations of surgical operations and eventually, reactive virtual patients and gloves to provide tactile feedback.
He believes that in a not far off number of years, people will be able to use VR to carry out operations and train themselves through virtual operations; “In my vision, you’ll have a virtual body in front of you, you get haptic gloves, you pick up a scalpel, and you feel it normally, you make a cut, you see the incision, it’s all realistic,”.