Surgeons from across the globe work together using VR

Three surgeons from across the world have used virtual reality (VR) to appear together in the operating theatre and share their expertise.

Professor Shafi Ahmed, colorectal surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust, was joined at The Royal London Hospital by Professor Shailesh Shrikhande, cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India, and Hitesh Patel, consultant colorectal surgeon at BMI The London Independent Hospital, as he was preparing to operate on a bowel cancer patient.

Each specialist wore a Microsoft Hololens headset and they could all ‘see’ each other as graphic avatars, standing and speaking as if together in the room.

The surgeons were able to point to pre-uploaded patient scans appearing as 3D holograms of the tumour hovering in the theatre, and virtually draw on the images to aid discussion.

“We have truly integrated technology with healthcare,” Professor Ahmed said. “By bringing together specialists in real time from across the world and different time zones we have demonstrated that we can make surgery safer and ensure the best patient outcomes, democratising surgical practice.”

Although medical and nursing specialists in hospitals already hold multidisciplinary team meetings to ensure a range of skills are involved when discussing the care of complex patient cases, these are limited to the insight of those at the hospital able to attend the meeting. Moreover, with emergency surgery there may not be time to discuss the complexities. When it comes to the operation, the surgeons are often on their own.

Bringing together a range of specialists in the operating theatre in this way could also improve accessibility, equity and safety in developing countries, Professor Ahmed explained.

This is not the first time that Professor Ahmed has pioneered the use of technology during surgery. In 2014, he used Google Glass to aid the learning of surgical students by transporting 13,000 people from 115 countries directly into the operating theatre, and more recently he ventured into VR using Google Cardboard and Snapchat Spectacles.

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