World's-first virtual reality operation carried out at London hospital

Royal London broadcasts colon cancer surgery live via virtual reality headsets and smartphones

The Royal London Hospital has carried out the world’s-first virtual reality (VR) operation.

The surgery, on a patient with colon cancer, was broadcast live, with thousands of medical students watching remotely though VR headsets and using their smartphones to learn first-hand from one of the country’s leading cancer surgeons, Dr Shafi Ahmed.

As a champion of new technology in medicine, I believe that virtual and augmented reality can revolutionise surgical education and training, particularly for developing countries that don’t have the resources and facilities of NHS hospitals

To deliver the ground-breaking project, Barts Health worked in partnership with Medical Realities, a healthcare company set up by Dr Ahmed to change the future of medical training through VR and Augmented Reality (AR) solutions; and Mativision, experts in live streaming 360° and VR.

The operation was filmed on two 360° cameras with multiple lenses and live streamed through Mativision’s revolutionary 360° and VR player to enable viewers to move around the theatre and zoom in and out of any aspect of the operation.

A number of medical students from Barts Health were also provided with VR headsets which provided the full immersive experience and participated in the operation from nearby seminar rooms in the hospital and at Queen Mary University of London.

Following this pioneering activity, the goal is to host many more VR surgeries on the Mativision app, ‘VR in OR’ and Medical Realities website.

Dr Ahmed said: “I am honoured that this patient has given permission for his experience to provide this unparalleled learning opportunity.

The first step may be broadcasting the operation, but we should think ahead to the time when surgeons can actually practise and complete their training using VR patients, rather than cadavers or test subjects

“As a champion of new technology in medicine, I believe that virtual and augmented reality can revolutionise surgical education and training, particularly for developing countries that don’t have the resources and facilities of NHS hospitals.”

George Kapellos, head of marketing and partnerships at Mativision, added: “This is a very-important milestone for us as it was the first time that our 360 and VR proprietary technology was used for the medical vertical.

“It’s a great example of how VR can become a powerful educational tool and extend its reach over and above entertainment.

“The world is just beginning to see the possibilities of what VR can achieve and we are proud to be at the very forefront of this.”

The landmark move has also been welcomed by IT service and consultancy firms around the world.

Speaking to BBH this week, David Ingham, consulting director for media and entertainment at Cognizant, said: “A year ago, judging the future based only on what we could see, we would probably have concluded that virtual reality would mostly stay virtual, and have little impact on reality, the realm of gamers.

VR is no longer just the realm of science fiction and gamers. We could start to see rapid developments in quite a short space of time now that the floodgates have opened, advances that will further disrupt the way we live, work, and interact with each other

“However, this virtual operation is a huge step for VR to show its ability to transform and benefit many different work environments, not just the consumer world.

“The first step may be broadcasting the operation, but we should think ahead to the time when surgeons can actually practise and complete their training using VR patients, rather than cadavers or test subjects.

“In every profession or trade, knowledge retention is a key issue in education and training. People retain 10% of the information they read, 20% of what that they hear, but 90% when they physically interact with the subject matter. VR could be the solution to this.

“VR is no longer just the realm of science fiction and gamers. We could start to see rapid developments in quite a short space of time now that the floodgates have opened, advances that will further disrupt the way we live, work, and interact with each other.”

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