What is Virtual Surgery?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 07 January 2020
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A virtual surgery is a computer-assisted surgical procedure simulation intended for training and preparing doctors for actual procedures. This allows surgeons to practice delicate operations without potentially risking a patient's life. Along with detailed three-dimensional images of the bodily organs involved in the operation, advanced setups include haptic technology, a tactile feedback system that simulates the pressure exerted back by the virtual organs. The result is a sophisticated simulation in which the user can both see and feel the virtual surgery to a realistic degree.

Most virtual surgery procedures utilize a combination of computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to create an in-depth three-dimensional model of the organ and the patient. The combination of scans allows surgeons to see both the surface and interior of the organ at all times. Motion sensors attached to the operating tools simulate any action taken towards the virtual organs, allowing surgeons to manipulate the image as they would during an actual surgery. Haptic technology devices, on the other hand, simulate the physical experience of the operation through a combination of force, motion, and vibration based on the surgeon's movements. All these elements combine to allow a surgeon to "touch" a virtual organ, manipulate it, and feel the results.


This is especially useful in procedures in which doctors cannot physically see the organs they are working on, as in laparoscopic surgery. Certain procedures require incisions to gain access into internal areas of organs. The size of the incisions must be kept minimal in order to reduce risks to the patient's health. In order to gain vision into the organ, surgeons insert a small laparoscopic camera through the incision. Virtual surgery trains doctors for this sort of operation by allowing them to work with images displayed on monitors rather than with direct sight of the organ.

High-risk procedures, such as brain tumor removal, are often simulated through virtual surgery prior to the actual operation. This greatly reduces the chance of any errors being committed during the actual surgery, as the virtual procedure is done on a replica of the patient's organ. Surgeons can also prepare for a worst-case scenario by simulating complications during the virtual surgery. In addition, surgeons can also be measured for their ability to perform the procedure before a possibly-incapable doctor does any harm to the patient.

Benefits such as these improve ethics in medical practice. The zero-risk training received through virtual surgery helps prevent malpractice cases and surgical accidents. It also eliminates the need for students and professionals to practice procedures on cadavers that might otherwise be unethically obtained.


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