On Thursday, British medical students watched the first surgery live-streamed in 360-degree video. The clip featured surgeons at the Royal London hospital while they were trying to remove cancerous tissue from a patient with bowel cancer.
Nevertheless, organizers inserted a one-minute delay in the live-streaming in the case of life-threatening complications. The procedure was watched by medical students, young surgeons, and the public through the Medical Realities website.
One expert argued that the new training method is actually more cost-effective than traditional approaches. Since VR headsets have cheaper alternatives such as Google’s cardboard VR Kit, and smartphones and internet connections are getting cheaper, health care could become more “equitable,” the expert noted.
The surgery could be both watched with help from a VR handset coupled to a smartphone running the “VR in OR” app and on the website, if the app wasn’t available. Many viewers reported that installing the app takes some time and expertise, so they first had to watch the procedure on the website.
But most viewers said that the experience was extremely immersive, with many of them claiming they felt like they were actually in the operating room beside the patient. Dr. Shafi Ahmed, senior surgeon that performed the operation, said that the new tech is more “educational” than a simple live video.
He explained that the new approach allows students to pay attention to details not necessarily related to the surgery including background noise and staffers’ motion.
Dr. George Hanna of the Imperial College, London was more cautious about the new tech. He said that the new approach could be extremely beneficial if it allowed more students to remotely learn necessary skills in the operating room.
But Dr. Hanna added that the new training method is just a new way of sharing scenes rather than a real breakthrough. He also stressed the idea that the cancer operation was real, not virtual and praised the high-quality and interactivity of the video.
The public noticed some limitations of 360-degree videos: viewers can look in whatever direction they wish during the live broadcast but they can’t move around to get a clearer view. Furthermore, on most smartphones the video isn’t sharp enough to show all details of the operation.
Dr. Ahmed, who has successfully performed the surgery, is the co-founder of Medical Realities, which was behind the live-streaming event in association with Mativision and Barts Health.
In 2014, Dr. Ahmed broadcast another live surgery via Google Glass, which allowed medical students to experience the operation through a surgeon’s eyes.
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