Surgery simulation is another branch of medicine where virtual reality is used to great effect. This technology is used to train surgeons in a range of surgical procedures, e.g. knee arthroscopy but without any risks. The trainee surgeon can be taught new and potentially dangerous techniques in an environment where they are able to make mistakes and learn from these.
Arthroscopy is a laparoscopic procedure which is based upon a series of small incisions using an endoscope which reduces the risk of bleeding, pain and complications. Another name for this is ‘keyhole surgery’ due to the small size of the incisions.
This procedure involves the use of a camera mounted tube which is inserted through one incision. A series of surgical instruments are inserted into one or more of the other incisions and are manipulated by the surgeon. The camera mounted tube displays a series of images of the affected part of the body which the surgeon views on a large television screen.
Another name for this is ‘minimally invasive surgery’.
Virtual reality and keyhole surgery
How is virtual reality used in keyhole surgery? VR is used as a way of training surgical skills and improving timing and co-ordination in trainee surgeons. The desktop system is commonly used which takes the form of a monitor screen and hand held device.
This screen displays 3D images of the human body. The trainee uses a hand held device to manipulate a virtual instrument, e.g. scalpel during the procedure. This device contains motion sensors that provide force feedback to the trainee. This enables the trainee to experience the pressure of a virtual instrument in the same way as using a real instrument. Slight changes in pressure reflect the movements made by the hand held device which generates a sense of realism.
What is important is that there is no time delay or latency during this process. Any delay will disrupt the procedure and realism which negates the entire experience. So it is vitally important that there is an immediate response each time the trainee manipulates the device.
Virtual touch forms part of many surgical and medical devices such as these. Research into medical/surgical devices is continuing but holds out a great deal of promise for the future.