One of the joys of writing about reporting from the cutting-edge of a newly reborn technology like virtual reality is that you’re constantly being surprised as what people are finding to do with it. Almost weekly there’s some innovation taking VR in yet another direction I’d not yet considered. Well, here’s one more.

140711_gc_operacion_1Surgery of any kind is by definition invasive and traumatic and the process can be an incredibly stressful experience for some patients. Those operations that can be performed under general anaesthetic mean that the patient is unaware of the work being performed on them, but local anaesthetic of course leaves them wide awake throughout the operation. This can be at the very least a disconcerting experience and at worst terrifying.

Music during operations has been used for years to pacify patients during operations, it also has beneficial effects for the Surgeon too. The use of virtual reality would then be a logical progression of this practise, potentially offering the opportunity to transport the patient’s aural and visual senses somewhere else entirely for the duration of an operation.

Well, a surgeon (Orthopedic surgeon, Gerardo Garcés) working at the Hospital Perpetuo Soccorro in Gran Canaria, Spain have taken this idea and run with it – performing the first operation where the patient wears an Oculus Rift and a pair of headphones for the duration. What’s more, the operation itself was streamed live thanks to the operating surgeon wearing Google Glass throughout.

140711_gc_operacion_24Isolating the patient from the alienating atmosphere of your typical operating theatre seems like an excellent way to improve their mental state during and after an operation. Although, choosing the experience that best matches the person might be tricky – you could foresee situations where the patient becomes so engrossed in the VR experience that involuntary physical movement makes surgery dangerous.

Nevertheless, it’s another dovetailing of potential uses for VR that go far beyond the current focus on gaming, and a further reminder of the technology’s rapid re-introduction into the Zeitgeist.

Thanks to the folks over at www.droiders.com who made us aware of the story, visit their site here.

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  • deadering

    Kind of seems like a form of torture; to watch yourself be cut open and operated on…

    Sure, if they got to experience something else on the Rift it would be neat, but having them watching their own surgery is a bit sadistic.

    • Wmerr21

      This person wasn’t watching themselves being cut open. The google glass was streaming to a lecture theater of medical students, while the oculus rift was providing a form of distraction from anxiety and pain. Understandably, using them together in this circumstance may lead to the misinterpretation that they are relaying footage of the operation to the patient.
      VR-based distraction therapy has been used for years to reduce acute pain in burn victims when receiving wound care (an excruciating procedure even when opiod analgesia is taken), with some studies reporting up to a 30-50% reduction in pain (Hoffman et al. 2011). Unfortunately price has been a huge barrier to this promising treatment, as the HMDs often cost upwards of $25 000.
      The low price tag of the oculus could finally see VR use proliferate in medicine as a first line treatment for acute pain, or reduce the amount of pharmacalogical analgesia needed for pain.

      http://www.hitl.washington.edu/projects/vrpain/

    • Druss

      I got this impression as well, at least at first. Just saying this so you know it’s not just you. :p

  • Maria Korolov

    Virtual reality has long been used on patients. Most particularly, for burn victims while they go through the very painful treatment sessions.

    There’s a snow world simulation that is reported to reduce the pain dramatically.

    There’s a really great, in-depth article about it here: http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201202/burning-man-sam-brown-jay-kirk-gq-february-2012