A gathering of pioneers of VR/AR/MR for therapeutic medical and educational use

Over the weekend of April 7th and 8th, Clyde Matava, Fahad Alam (members of U of T’s AR/VR Network and founders of CHISIL, Collaborative Human Immersive Interaction Lab) along with a small team of co-organizers held a wonderful conference on augmented, virtual and mixed realities in healthcare called Realities in Medicine.  There was a striking variety of applications discussed such as therapeutic VR, as well mixed reality for patient education and practitioner training. This will serve as a recap of some of the highlights.

The first day’s keynote was Dr. Walter Greenleaf, a neuroscientist and developer from Stanford University who shared examples of VR for treating PTSD and phobias such as a fear of heights. Amongst other things he talked about the Stanford Virtual Heart program designed by Stanford cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgery experts.

This was followed by a panel on advances in extended realities technology in patient and medical education.

Rounding out the morning was a pitch competition called the Sharks’ Den.  It included wonderful pitches for applications such as virtual reality “last wish” experiences for patients in palliative care, a hands-free augmented reality app with virtual hands to guide the movements of clinicians as they learn surgical procedures, immersive videos to teach pediatric patients about their conditions and treatment and other great ideas.

There were some brief oral presentations about completed or in-progress research projects such as augmented reality in ophthalmology training, using augmented reality on 3D printed anatomical models and textbooks for medical students. Other notable projects included a head-mounted holographic needle guidance system and immersive media to enhance empathy skills in medical training.

Then there was a technical showcase, where Dr. Sonny Kohli discussed his suite of Cloud DX patient monitoring hardware and software options and even live-demonstrated their Vitaliti Cough Analysis App.  Then, Dr. Osamah Choudry, Neurosurgeon and founder of MediVis described with video the holographic AR representation of CT scans that can be overlaid as a 3D image on top of a patient before and during surgery. Then David Parker talked about his non-profit Wishplay that uses immersive virtual reality to enable unattainable experiences for dying and disabled patients.

Prof. Ben Lok of the University of Florida is well established in the field of creating of virtual patients. He discussed virtual physicians to answer post-surgery questions, virtual physician avatars for reaching rural populations, virtual mental health practitioners to mitigate the wait time for seeing an actual practitioner in person. He also discussed having students create the virtual patients and how this exercise really enhanced their empathy for patients. You can try for yourself interacting with their virtual patients created by their virtual experiences research group.

The second day started with a keynote by Dr. Hunter Hoffman, a pioneer in therapeutic VR for pain distraction and Principle Investigator at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory.  He talked about his early work creating the seminal immersive SnowWorld game used during wound care for patients with burns. It was originally conceived for children but that in his experience, burn-afflicted adults enjoyed it as much as the younger patients and it seemed to be as effective in distracting them from the pain.

Photo pf a man pointing to a screen with an image of a virtual world called SnowWorld

Dr. Hunter Hoffman showing a still from a later version of SnowWorld, the first ever virtual world created for pain distraction.

There was a panel on immersive reality in the clinical realm. Dr. Clyde Matava described the lessons learned through their implementation of pre-surgery exposure therapy immersive videos and discussed plans for future developments.

The Manager of eLearning and Educational Technologies at Baycrest Health Sciences, Cindy Plunkett, described an AR app she designed to orient new staff to the hospital campus.

Lisa Sokoloff, Manager of Training & Simulation described a project she is co-investigating of using VR dementia simulations to increase empathy.

The technology demonstrations were fun too.

Photo of a person eewearing a Microsoft Hololens display and pointing with one finger

Me trying out the Microsoft HoloLens (hands-free mixed reality). What you cannot see is that I am removing layers of muscle from a full size anatomical model.

There was a helpful panel discussion on commercialization and funding opportunities for development of extended reality (virtual/augmented or mixed reality) applications and innovations.

The conference concluded with a technology showcase featuring Robert Amyot, President of CAE Healthcare and Vimedix, Virtual Imaging Training Systems along with Michael Thibodeau of Microsoft.

Dr. Amyot showed how his organization is using mixed reality to enhance clinical practice exercises with simulation mannequins, adding an additional layer of complexity to the learning experience. Mr. Thibodeau demonstrated upcoming developments that could serve healthcare and beyond such as Microsoft’s “Holoportation.”

All in all, it was a very inspiring conference and the first of its kind in Canada. The medical and healthcare community has certainly recognized and seized upon the potential of extended reality technology for enhancing patient care, medical and patient education and clinical practice.

Keep up the good work CHISIL!

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