Intended for healthcare professionals

Where Are We Going

Virtual reality in medicine

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 13 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1305
  1. é Szàkely, head (,
  2. Richard M Satava, professor of surgeryb
  1. a Medical Image Analysis and Visualization Group, Computer Vision Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland
  2. b Yale School of Medicine, Section of Surgical Gastroenterology, New Haven, CT 06510, USA
  1. Correspondence to: G Sz'ekely

    Computer modelling and simulation have become increasingly important in many scientific and technological disciplines owing to the wealth of computational power. Calculation of the behaviour of these computational models is increasingly replacing experiments on real world objects—for example, in the car industry (tests based on simulated crashes) or in the development of nuclear weapons—and is becoming an indispensable tool in the development of new products and procedures.

    Likewise, the development of techniques for acquiring data (for example, medical imaging) has enabled the easy generation of high resolution copies of real world objects from the computer's memory. The development of imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, and ultrasound, has made the acquisition of highly detailed anatomical and partially functional models of three dimensional human anatomy a routine component of daily clinical practice.

    Summary Points

    The principal aim of virtual reality technology is to present virtual objects or complete scenes to all human senses in a way identical to their natural counterpart

    Simulated three dimensional reconstruction of organs from radiological cross sections is an important diagnostic tool by providing clinicians with a more naturalistic view of a patient's anatomy

    Preoperative planning with the use of a computer including realistic prediction of the outcome has become an integral part of the intervention in certain disciplines, such as radiation therapy, craniofacial surgery, or neurosurgery

    Computerised three dimensional atlases of human anatomy, physiology, and pathology are about to revolutionise the teaching of these subjects

    Several virtual reality systems have been developed and tested for the physical or mental rehabilitation of patients and for supporting mental health therapy

    Virtual reality technology plays an important role in telemedicine from remote diagnosis to complex teleinterventions

    Technical data for virtual reality devices

    Display screens

    Usual screen resolution: 1024×768 or 1280×1024 pixels

    In stereoscopic mode the vertical resolution is halved: 1024×384 or 1280×512

    For head mounted displays …

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