At Stanford Medicine neurosurgeons are relying on virtual reality to better understand the nuances of individual cases and to educate patients on their specific conditions. The system, a product of Surgical Theater, a Colorado company that we covered on a trip to the White House a few years ago, combines data from different imaging modalities to create easily navigable virtual models of the relevant anatomy. Stanford has seen significant use of the system that’s been employed to prepare for challenging surgical procedures, train resident doctors, and even assist in the operating room.
To train the residents, Stanford built a special room called Neurosurgical Simulation Lab that has comfy reclining chairs, large screens, and Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets. This is a sort of modern lecture hall that has no chalkboard and in which the instructor appears virtually when the headset is put on. The instructor, also present in the room and able to communicate with the students, can navigate to and discuss each unique case and even perform a virtual procedure to demonstrate how it should be done in real life.
Patients, on the other hand, don’t have to go to the Neurosurgical Simulation Lab as a dedicated virtual reality cart is brought to them that contains the virtual reality headset, computer, and tools to interact with the 3D images.
The facility is also used by surgical teams to get a grip on unusual cases, plan surgeries, and do a bit of practice before pulling out the skull drill. “We can plan out how we can approach a tumor and avoid critical areas like the motor cortex or the sensory areas,” said Dr. Gary Steinberg, professor and chair of neurosurgery. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to reconstruct it in three dimensions; we’d have to do it in our minds. This way it’s a three-dimensional rendering.”
During surgeries, Stanford doctors now have the ability to overlay previously captured imaging data with live video coming from surgical microscopes, providing a viewing aspect that previously one had to generate within one’s own mind.
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