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Royal London Hospital uses virtual reality to operate on patient

Remotely located surgeons use Microsoft Hololens headsets to “virtually appear” in operating theatre to help with cancer surgery

A surgeon at the Royal London Hospital has joined forces with surgeons from other parts of the world to operate on a patient using virtual reality (VR). 

Colorectal surgeon Shafi Ahmed enlisted help from surgeons based in Mumbai, India, as well as London, to perform an operation to remove bowel cancer tissue from a patient.

The surgeons who were not physically present at the Royal London, which is part of Barts Health NHS Trust, used Microsoft Hololens headsets to “virtually appear” in the operating theatre and were able to communicate as if they were together in the room as avatars. 

Ahmed described it as an example of truly integrating technology with healthcare. “By bringing together specialists in real time from across the world and different time zones, we have demonstrated that we can make surgery safer and ensure the best patient outcomes, democratising surgical practice,” he said.

“Augmented and virtual reality have incredible potential, not only in the NHS, but also to encourage collaboration to improve accessibility, equity and safety in developing countries.”

During the surgery, cancer surgeon Shailesh Shrikande from Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai and colorectal surgeon Hitesh Patel from BMI The London Independent Hospital were able to view patient scans in the form of 3D holograms hovering in the operating theatre, and could virtually draw on the images.

Patel said this was the first time he had used Hololens, and it took a while to get used to. But added: “It was an amazing way to interact with eminent surgeons across the world, and discuss the case and look at the same images together. It’s also nice to have everything in front of you without sifting through paper, trying to find results – so all of these are great benefits to the patient.”

VR is emerging as a treatment tool across healthcare, including mental health. Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford’s psychiatry department are using VR as a way of treating persecutory delusions in patients.

In another example, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, where surgeons are using VR to better understand the results of MRI scans by using them to build a virtual model of a child’s heart.

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