For the sixth-grade class at Davis Magnet School in Costa Mesa, the science lesson for the day means keeping textbooks and notebooks on the shelves while the students pull out virtual reality viewers by Google Cardboard and their smartphones preloaded with 3D videos found on YouTube.
As they peer through the lenses, Dr. Robert Louis, program director of the Skull Base and Pituitary Tumor Program at Hoag Neurosciences Institute, guides them through the type of virtual reality “fly-through” he views prior to performing brain surgery on patients at Hoag Hospital Newport Beach.
“It’s really cool because it’s like doing games in the middle of class, except it’s educational,” sixth-grader Mark Casey says.
What the students are experiencing is a virtual and augmented reality technology derived from the same technology used in F-16 flight simulation. Introduced by Surgical Theater (surgicaltheater.net), the Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform, or SNAP, is applied to standard medical imaging, such as black–and-white CT scans, MRIs or X-rays, and allows neurosurgeons to both rehearse prior to the operation and be guided by their instruments while they are performing it. Hoag Hospital is one of 12 leading neurosurgery institutions across the country to utilize this technology.
So what kind of benefits do using the latest in 3-D gaming and virtual reality technology bring to the operating room? Less-invasive approaches, smaller incisions and shorter recovery times, just to name a few.
“The early data suggests, and surgeons will say anecdotally through their own experience, that risk is greatly reduced, confidence is greatly increased, and the overall outcomes of surgery as a result of having a better idea of what the risks are and being able to rehearse, are much better,” says Jay Sanchez, Western U.S. regional sales director at Surgical Theater.
Additionally, neurosurgeons like Louis are able to engage their patients by using the SNAP technology to help them understand their diagnosis and temper what is often difficult news by having them involved in the plan to get them better.
“Between preoperative rehearsal, patient engagement and then interoperative navigation, this is a huge leap forward in technology for the way we do things,” Louis says.
The idea behind sharing this type of hands-on experience in the classroom not only helps the students gain a better understanding of how the human body works, but also shows them how technology they are already familiar with can be a path to a future career. Louis himself was inspired to study neurosurgery as a sixth-grader when a neurosurgeon brought a cadaver brain into his classroom for dissection.
“Kids now are raised with this kind of technology, and virtual reality is common-place for them,” Louis says. “So to be able to…