Virtual reality helps radiologists speed procedures

Interactive virtual reality (VR) could help improve the efficiency of interventional radiology treatments, as well as increasing portability and patient access, according to a new study.


Conducted by the University of Washington Medical Center, the study was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of steering a catheter with electromagnetic sensors projected onto a VR headset through the anatomy to certain blood vessels.

By using VR technology, the mean time to reach targeted vessels was much lower than in fluoroscopy, the standard practice that uses an x-ray image, indicating more efficient treatment with less radiation exposure.

Researchers created a 3D printed model and a holographic image of blood vessels in a patient’s abdomen and pelvis, while a team of radiologists guided the catheters through the 3D printed model.

The VR software, which provides a dynamic holographic display of vascular anatomy using real-time 3D images from inside a patient’s blood vessels, was developed through a University of Washington business incubator that supported development of a startup, Pyrus Medical.


“Virtual reality will change how we look at a patient’s anatomy during an IR treatment,” Wayne Monsky, a professor of radiology at the University of Washington and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “This technology will allow physicians to travel inside a patient’s body instead of relying solely on 2D, black and white images.”

Monsky added, however, that 3 billion people currently live in rural areas without access to such technologies.

“Currently, the life-saving potential of IR is limited to hospitals and areas with the resources to invest in image-guided technology,” he noted.

That fact presents enormous opportunity. Monsky said VR could enable these procedures to be brought to rural areas using nothing more than a suitcase.


As virtual and augmented reality technologies continue to improve, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to investigate the role these tools may play in healthcare.

Virtual reality is already being used to treat phobias, provide physical therapy, train health professionals, and promote wellness, but the technology still faces a number of clear barriers to widespread healthcare adoption, including issues of funding and cost, inelegant hardware and software, general technology aversion, and pushback from unconvinced practitioners.

Kaiser Permanente’s School of Medicine, planned to open in the summer of 2020, will offer immersive learning tools including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality and 3D technology.

And Monsky’s team will continue to conduct research in 3D models, as well as animal studies, as they begin the regulatory process to apply for approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.

Email the writer: [email protected]

Twitter: @dropdeaded209 

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication. 

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