Trauma surgeon uses VR to fix shattered bones

The doctor has created a software that makes surgical operations safer.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of broken bones.jpg
Representational image of broken bones.

Rasi Bhadramani/iStock 

Scottish trauma surgeon David Howie is using virtual reality (VR) to fix broken bones with a newly-invented software that is both cheaper and better than what’s on the market.

This is according to a report by BBC Scotland News published on Saturday.

Today, the application of VR technology in surgery spans a number of areas, including planning, training, and even assisting with actual operations. 

Improving skillsets and procedures

Medical students, residents, and surgeons can now virtually practice surgical procedures thanks to this technology improving their skillset and making operations safer for patients. This is because these simulations offer a safe and regulated manner to hone surgical abilities and practice procedures without endangering actual patients.

Basic surgical skill training, complicated operations, and even difficult or uncommon cases can all be covered in VR surgical training.

Through the use of this advanced technology, surgeons can use medical imaging data, such as CT or MRI scans, to construct 3D models of a patient's anatomy. With these models, doctors can examine the bone structure of a patient in depth, spot any potential difficulties, and create a detailed surgical plan before ever reaching the operating room. This preoperative planning can improve the effectiveness and security of actual operations.

Howie, with the help of NHS Lanarkshire's IT and University Hospital, Wishaw, took an already-existing VR software called Medicalholodeck and adapted it to be ideal for use in complex bone surgeries. 

Angry Birds and other VR applications

“My daughter and I got a VR headset for Christmas and it was great for gaming and playing Angry Birds and things,” told the BBC Howie.

"I suddenly thought, hang on, we should be able to view CT scans using this same technology and there must be clever people who have already created the software.”

The newly-developed system allows the surgeons to better see and grasp patient fractures, which helps them plan more accurate surgeries.

Howie claims the invention is bound to forever change the way surgeons approach operations.

 "Once you've used it you realize how effective it is at giving you an understanding of what you are looking at,” he told the BBC.

"You can clearly see where the fracture is, what the configuration is, all the other little bits of fragments and it gives you a much better idea of where it is broken. And it really helps us plan how we are going to fix it.”

Although this technology is already in existence, Howie claims his version is cheaper, making it better for the NHS Lanarkshire where cost is often an issue. The organization is now studying the procedure to evaluate its price and benefits.

If it proves indeed useful, the NHS will seek to implement it across the board, where it can help to reduce operating costs by decreasing the likelihood of surgical errors and improving patient safety. It can also serve to give patients a look at what is happening on the operating table.

"We think we can use it for a patient experience point of view as well and actually show people what is happening in an operation in an easy-to-understand way,” said Lyle Boylan, NHS Lanarkshire's E-health transition manager.

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