Surgeons use virtual reality to fly through patients’ brains at Hoag Hospital
Whether navigating a star ship through a meteor storm or lurking through the murky underbelly of a city at midnight, gamers have long used virtual reality technology to make their experiences seem … well, virtually real.
Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach recently hosted a tour of its operating rooms that are using the same technology to let doctors virtually experience human anatomy in great detail and perfect surgeries before performing the real thing.
Hoag was the first hospital in Orange County and is is one of only a handful around the country using systems created by Surgical Theater, a Los Angeles company specializing in virtual reality medical imagining.
Wearing the Surgical Theater headset, which looks exactly like what would be worn by gamers, Dr. Robert Louis, a neurosurgeon, said he can virtually implant himself in a patient’s brain and travel anywhere in the brain he needs to go.
The technology allows a surgeon to rehearse complex brain and spine surgery in virtual reality, multiple times if necessary, before operating on a live patient.
“I can do it three or four times in the virtual space and I only have to do it once – and I can do it safely – in a real patient,” Louis said. “Before this, there was no ability to practice surgery. The practice was on patients.”
Surgical Theater was founded by Alon Geri and Moty Avisar, former Israeli fighter pilots adapted the technology used in flight simulators to the operating room.
Geri and Avisar began working on their project in 2005 and the technology received FDA clearance in 2013.
The technology uses existing MRI scans to create 3D models of the brain that are compatible with virtual reality.
Surgical Theater also allows the surgeon to take the patients through the 3D images and the planned surgery.
“The advantage of this is that I can give myself what we call a ‘Superman’s view,’ allowing me to see what I will not be able to see in surgery until the tumor is removed,” Louis said. “I’m actually flying through the tumor, and then bringing myself out to the back side.”
Hoag began using Surgical Theater in 2015, building on the systems in recent years.
Additions include software enabling 3D imagery used before the surgery to be overlaid on top of a live surgical image of a patient during the surgery.
“It gives you the ability to see what you can’t see,” Louis said.
The hospital has two operating rooms equipped with Surgical Theater equipment and has used it in more than 1,000 cases, Louis said.
Both operating rooms are also equipped with an 84-inch touchscreen monitor – think of giant flat-screen TV – that allows for manipulating an image in 4K resolution.
The images can be recorded and later reviewed, or they can be streamed live onto screens outside of the operating room.
Initially the virtual reality technology was used mainly for brain surgery, but the 3D platform is now being expanded to other medical specialties, said Dr. Michael Brant-Zawadzki, senior physician executive at Hoag.
“We’re starting to see virtual reality in healthcare expanding dramatically,” Brant-Zawadzki said. “It ensures shorter patient surgical times, improves outcomes and improves safety, (equating) to cost savings for the healthcare.”