Radiologist watching CT scan

VR could improve doctors’ confidence before procedures, study suggests

Image credit: Dreamstime

According to a Stanford University study, interactive virtual reality (VR) could help radiologists adapt complex treatments to each patient’s unique requirements by providing a 360-view of their internal anatomy.

In this study, researchers investigated the extent to which VR simulations of the inside of a patient’s body could be helpful for radiologists performing a specific procedure: splenic artery aneurysm repair.

“Treating splenic artery aneurysms can be very difficult because of their intricate nature and anatomic variations from patient to patient,” said Dr Zlatko Devcic, an interventional radiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-author of the study.

“This new platform allows you to view a patient’s arterial anatomy in a three-dimensional image, as if it is right in front of you, which may help interventional radiologists more quickly and thoroughly plan for the equipment and tools they’ll need for a successful outcome.”

The researchers used a patient’s pre-procedural CT scans – which use many X-rays to build up a 3D image of the inside of the body – to create a virtual environment in which the radiologist can examine the patient’s internal anatomy by manipulating standard 2D images. This allows the radiologist to explore their patient’s body in a way that was not previously possible.

The researchers compared the VR environment to images generated by commonly used visualisation software which only displays 2D images, evaluating 17 splenic artery aneurysms in 14 patients.

The study found that the radiologists’ accuracy in identifying arteries associated with these complaints was similar with both methods, although they consistently felt more confident when using VR compared to the standard method. According to the researchers, this method allows the radiologist a “deeper and intuitive understanding of spatial relationships” inside the body.

“Pre-operative planning is possibly the most important step towards successfully treating a patient, so the value of VR cannot be understated,” said Devcic. “This technology gives us a totally different way to look at that structure and safely plan our approach to patient care.”

In the future, Devcic and his colleagues hope to examine whether this VR technology could help reduce the amount of time required to perform this complex treatment and consequently minimise the exposure of patients to radiation and radiocontrast agent.

VR has the potential for a huge range of applications in healthcare, such as by allowing expecting parents to see their foetuses in 3D or by providing some therapy for patients with severe mental health conditions.

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