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Doctors will soon see their patients in virtual reality

Published on 9.5.2022
Tampere University
A researcher studies an image of a patient using a virtual headset. She receives haptic feedback via a hand-held controller. Photograph: Hilma Toivonen
Tampere University’s researchers have developed a solution for making medical imaging data three-dimensional and transporting them to virtual reality. A doctor can use a virtual reality headset to examine the patient’s health problem, make a diagnosis and, for example, plan operations. The solution also includes haptics; a special controller gives the surgeon the experience of touching the area that is being operated.

During the DPI research project, several prototypes were produced which were based on hardware that support the human senses and software developed by researchers at Tampere University.

“In the research setting, doctors tested the device as an alternative tool for treating patients and compared the method with current practices. They have been satisfied with the new solutions we produced,” says professor Roope Raisamo who led the project.

“Of course, further things still need to be developed, but the method has proved to be feasible,” Raisamo adds.

“In the future, this method can replace the more traditional two-dimensional computer-assisted surgical planning,” says DDS, Specialist in Dentomaxillofacial Radiology Jorma Järnstedt from Tampere University Hospital.

“The method we tested has clear advantages for visualising complex anatomical structures,” Järnstedt continues.

Tampere University has coordinated the Digital and Physical Immersion in Radiology and Surgery (DPI) study which has also involved Tampere University Hospital and several businesses.

The researchers reconstructed a three-dimensional image from patients’ real, anonymised tomography scans, which can be viewed from different angles and at different magnifications using a virtual headset. The study focused on the head region, but the method is also suitable for viewing other parts of the body.

In the test situation, a three-dimensional skull model could be rotated in virtual reality, allowing the doctor to plan, for example, the surgical repair of a cheekbone fracture. The researchers also developed interaction techniques that enable doctors to add the places they need to cut into the model.

As the project draws to a close, the researchers will continue to collaborate with businesses and Aalto University on the development of explanatory artificial intelligence among other topics. The aim is also to find a solution that would allow several doctors to come together in the same virtual reality to jointly review a patient model as they are making decisions that require expertise from different medical specialties.

“This is important because medicine is increasingly moving towards telemedicine and remote diagnosing and consultation. It is predicted that more and more of medicine and doctors’ appointments will happen virtually in the future. This is a very important trend both societally and medically,” says University Researcher Pertti Huuskonen.

The partners of the DPI project included Tampere University, Tampere University Hospital, Planmeca Oy, Adesante Oy, 3DStep Oy, Disior Oy, MVision AI Oy, Osgenic, Varjo Technologies Oy and Nokia Bell Labs. The two-year project was funded by Business Finland and the companies.

Video DPI Project – Enhanced VR for medical interaction

Contact:

Professor Roope Raisamo, tel. +358 50 570 2007, roope.raisamo [at] tuni.fi