- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2019

Physicians increasingly are using augmented and virtual reality technologies to diagnose, treat and even operate on their patients.

Doctors at George Washington University Hospital are among the first in the world and the United States to use virtual and augmented reality for surgeries.

Rather than just relying on 2D imaging, surgeons can take a CT scan and create a 360-degree virtual reality platform with it, Dr. Keith Mortman, a thoracic surgeon for GW Hospital, said Monday during a demonstration.

Using the technology, patients also can see images of the insides of their bodies before chest surgery.

“The patient actually becomes an avatar walking through their own chest,” Dr. Mortman said, noting virtual reality images can be manipulated to improve visual clarity and enhance details.

While virtual reality has long been used for pain and distraction therapy, this marks the first time doctors have used it for presurgical planning and to perform chest surgeries, said biomedical engineer Aalap Herur-Raman, the senior virtual reality program leader for Surgical Theater, a company specializing in surgical VR technology that partnered with the hospital in Washington.

Washington surgeons also have become the first in the country to fix rib fractures and repair chest walls with augmented reality. Babak Sarani, a trauma surgeon at the hospital, said the technology enables doctors to take a CT scan and project a hologram onto the patient.

“What you want, is a surgeon who is highly precise — a surgeon who knows exactly where to make the incision, minimizes any further dissection, gets down to where the problem is, takes care of the problem and gets you off that table as fast as humanly possible,” said Dr. Sarani. “Well, how do you do that to a structure that has a curve to it using two-dimensional imaging?”

Using augmented reality, he said, surgeons had a clearer idea of where to make an incision and could more quickly operate on patients.

Wendell Gibby, CEO of the health care technology firm Novarad Corp., said augmented reality allows doctors to see a patient and through a patient simultaneously.

“We have robotics in medicine. We have 3D. But this is the first time we are really able to just take garden variety 3D imaging and project it onto the patient,” Dr. Gibby said. “We merge reality with the virtual images.”

The technology, created by Dr. Steven Cvetko, Novarad’s director of research and development, has been used on about 20 patients over the past two years for a variety of procedures, including breast biopsies and abdominal abscess drainage.

Dr. Gibby said augmented reality technology could assist with medical training, pre-operative planning and, most importantly, precision medicine.

“I think there are many, many areas of medicine where operations could be faster, safer, cheaper and less risky because we can do it more quickly and precisely,” Dr. Gibby said, commenting on future potential use of augmented reality.

For virtual reality, Mr. Herur-Raman said the development of “untethered VR” — which would not require a computer or sensors close by — to make the technology more mobile is underway.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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