Perhaps you have heard about the Moore’s Law (introduced by Intel Corporation co-founder Gordon Moore) according to which the power of computer chips doubles every 18 to 24 months. This suggestion was made in the late 70th of the 20th century. Technologies and computing power were increasing relentlessly fast and until the end of 90th, they have already been used to conduct complex simulations and to create the interactive virtual world.
The attempts to use virtual reality as an educational tool were first made in the commercial aviation and military industry. Aircraft simulators were effectively used to provide 100% flight safety by training aircraft staff. Virtual reality and simulations in the military sphere allowed training soldiers in a non-lethal environment. And how virtual reality can be used in medical education and healthcare?
The need for clinical staff to visualize a complex medical data, in particular during surgery, was growing rapidly during the 20th century. So first attempts to use virtual reality applications in healthcare took place in the middle of the 90’s. In the field of surgery, VR applications can be categorized into three basic classes: surgery training, operation planning and augmented reality for open surgery sessions, endoscopy, and radio-surgery (Riva, 2002).
In 1998, a unique collaborative group of surgeons and computer scientists led by Marescaux and his colleagues, have applied virtual reality to the hepatic surgery (Marescaux et.al., 1998). Liver surgery is considered to be difficult due to the complexities of the organ, and thus, the three-dimensional model of the organ which is possible to visualize clearly and manipulate is a solution which can significantly simplify each of the three categories of surgery which were mentioned above.
With the help of computer and information technologies, virtual reality can extend human’s five senses. According to the Wikipedia definition, “virtual reality (VR) can be referred to as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated life, which replicates an environment that simulates physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds and lets the user interact with that world”.
Virtual reality can represent more than just an actual state of the world by involving the following concepts: immersion (immersing in the image), navigation (ability to move in the virtual universe) and interaction (ability to move and manipulate elements of the virtual world) (Marescaux et al., 1998).
Due to the possibility to use virtual reality in medical training, planning and open sessions, new horizons of therapeutic activity have been opened. With VR, it became possible to practice a surgical procedure preoperatively. While historically most of the surgical procedures were practiced on animals before human application, now patient-specific practice has become a reality.
Of our five senses, sense of touch is unique because it is interactive. It allows us to interact with the object of interest and therefore, learn much more about it. The revolution of medical and, in particular, of the surgical curriculum is here. And in the nearest future, even more of collaborations of medical and computer scientists will be needed to implement virtual reality and computer technologies in medical education and healthcare in the most appropriate and useful direction.
1. Riva, G. (2002). Virtual reality for health care: the status of research. CyberPsychology & Behavior 5:219–225.
2. Marescaux, J. et al. (1998). Virtual Reality Applied to Hepatic Surgery Simulation: The Next Revolution. Annals of Surgery, Vol.228, No.5, 627-634.