A surgeon carefully made an incision as his assistant carried on a conversation. Both were calm and professional in their demeanor. The only difference is the viewer was right there with Sahfi Ahmed, thanks to virtual reality.
Thursday's operation was the first virtual reality surgery ever streamed online. The procedure could also be viewed in VR within the VRinOR app available for Android and iOS devices. The procedure, streamed live, gave a snapshot of VR's potential as a teaching tool, as well as a sense of how transformative VR will be for work, let alone home entertainment.
During the procedure, Ahmed asked someone off-camera about her view of it in VR. "It feels very real. It's fantastic!" the woman exclaimed, even though she was in the very room where the surgery is taking place.
The surgery being performed at the Royal London Hospital could be viewed on the web at Medical Realities, a medical education suite that uses advanced technology. Ahmed gained experience using the latest technology in the operating room in 2014 when he used Google Glass to remove tumors from a 78-year-old patient. For many, it may be too much to stomach, but the immersive quality of Google Glass and, now, VR, eliminates any physical boundary from the learning experience.
— Michelle Clifford (@skynewsmichelle) April 14, 2016
Medical students, residents or attendees could strap on Google Cardboard to pan around Ahmed's operating room Thursday. It's a rare opportunity to witness a procedure in such detail. It's also a chance to see just how an operating room works. There's a flow where conversations happen, jokes are shared and surgery is performed. Moving one's head around the room lets one experience what it's like to be performing surgery in the moment.
"With immersion you learn how to behave professionally with your colleagues and how a team functions," Ahmed said in an interview with Ars Technica.
There are still hurdles, such as the price of a PC powerful enough to operate the Rift and Vive, to widespread adoption in 2016, but Ahmed's demonstration shows that VR could become a valuable tool for medical education that can reach thousands of people around the world.