Virtual Reality is Coming to Medical Imaging

medical imaging

Thanks to new equipment, doctors can see, and feel, a body in entirely new ways

 

The medical imaging industry is about to get a lot more “real.”

New technologies coming to some hospitals and medical schools will allow doctors not only to see three-dimensional pictures produced by imaging equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound, but to interact with what is pictured—say, a heart or liver—as if it were real. Using devices such as virtual-reality viewers, as well as styluses or other hardware that provides a feeling of resistance, doctors will be able to take a tour of a patient’s brain, for example, and even cut into virtual tissue.

Most medical-imaging equipment on the market today can generate 3-D images. Yet surgeons often stick with what they were taught to do in medical school, which is view multiple two-dimensional snapshots of the body part on which they plan to operate and reconstruct a three-dimensional view of it in their heads. Many of them don’t think 3-D images offer enough increased benefit to merit that becoming the new standard, and the higher cost of 3-D imaging means hospitals have to demonstrate it actually improves patient care to get reimbursed.

That may be about to get easier. New virtual-reality technologies, which can pull in imagery and data from multiple sources, have the potential to more dramatically affect patient outcomes. In clinical trials, some virtual-reality simulations reduced surgical planning time by 40% and increased surgical accuracy by 10%.

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