The Future Reality of Medicine…is Virtual

Local News

Imagine a heart the size of a room, each of its chambers a hallway you can walk through. Well, now surgeons at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center don’t have to imagine that, it’s reality…virtual reality.

It looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie or a video game. But, the technology is helping surgeons to solve complex cases, leading to better outcomes for patients. That future of medicine is being written here in central Illinois.

“I was blown away.” Pediatric Heart Surgeon Dr. Mark Plunkett says, looking back on his first experience using the virtual reality technology.

Dr. Plunkett’s own heart nearly skipped a beat when he put on the HTC Vive Virtual Reality system and looked at the anatomy of his actual patient’s congenital heart complex, an exact replica of the anatomy.

“This virtual reality technology has taken what was already a wonderful advancement and moved it to a whole other level.” Dr. Plunkett explained.

It wasn’t long ago that these same doctors were celebrating 3D printed hearts, but just a few short months later the collaborative effort of engineers and clinicians at the Jump Trading and Simulation Center  is allowing them to go a step further, a step inside the heart.

“I was able to enlarge the heart to a size that I was able to sort of step inside the heart looking at the hole in the heart that I was going to be patching surgically.” Dr. Plunkett said.

Dr. Matthew Bramlet is head of the Advanced Imaging and Modeling Department at Jump.

“Our goal is to put tools in the hands of physicians that they didn’t realize they needed.” Dr. Bramlet said.

Tools like this one transform traditional medical images into their digital counterparts and have already done so in 55 patient cases at the hospital.

“Of those we’ve had 9 that have changed the way we approach a patient, in some ways its been dramatic.” Dr. Bramlet explained.

Dr. Plunkett has already taken that virtual reality and made it reality in 3 of his patient cases.

“All that guesswork is taken away. There won’t be any surprises because we know exactly what we’re going to find when we get in there because these images are that patient’s anatomy.” Dr. Plunkett said.

This future of medicine has a whole lot of heart behind it.

“This tool that I believe can improve the understanding that a clinician has over that specific patient…is an invaluable tool.” Dr. Bramlet said.

Dr. Bramlet says virtual reality cuts down on the time and cost of printing 3D hearts.

They hope to expand the program to look at more than just hearts, hoping to perfect the technology for radiologists and neurologists. The doctors say it will also be a game changer for medical students.

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