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Pediatric cardiologists bring virtual reality to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford

VR Packard picVirtual reality (VR) has risen to prominence in the video-game and consumer technology industries, and now doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford are bringing the technology to health care for both providers and patients with a three-part Virtual Reality Program at the Children’s Heart Center.

The Stanford Virtual Heart allows users to “teleport” inside the heart to understand complex congenital heart defects, which can be some of the most difficult medical conditions to grasp. Users wear a VR headset and engage handheld controllers to rotate and inspect the heart’s different pieces, understand the circulation of blood throughout the organ, and see where defects exist, such as a hole in a septum or an improperly attached blood vessel. For patients and families, the Stanford Virtual Heart allows them to more easily understand how their specific defect would be repaired, and for trainees, the program’s immersive experience is revolutionizing medical education.

As pediatric cardiologist David M. Axelrod, MD, who has led the design of the Stanford Virtual Heart program, explains in a hospital press release:

The heart is a complicated three-dimensional organ, and it’s really hard to describe what’s going on inside of it — especially when something is going wrong. Virtual reality eliminates a lot of that complexity by letting people go inside the heart and see what’s happening themselves — it’s worth way more than a thousand words.

Project Brave Heart, the second program, is a pilot study led by Anne Dubin, MD, professor of pediatrics, and Lauren Schneider, PsyD, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, which is exploring the use of VR for “stress inoculation therapy” and aims to help young patients mitigate pre-procedure anxiety through cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

The Project Brave Heart VR experience leads study participants -- patients ages 8-25 who have planned cardiac catheterization procedures -- through a virtual tour of what they will experience on the day of their procedure. Throughout the virtual tour, patients also have opportunities to enter therapeutic VR relaxation and meditation experiences during moments of stress or anxiety.

A third program, meanwhile, uses a 3-D virtual imaging technology to help surgeons to virtually map their route inside the operating room. This technology was highlighted in a recent feature story on the Packard Children’s website.

In a release, Stephen Roth, MD, MPH, chief of pediatric cardiology and director of the newly named Betty Irene Moore Children’s Heart Center, pointed out that the hospital's proximity to Silicon Valley puts it in an "ideal position to be a vanguard in this space and partner with the companies that are on the cutting edge."  The technology enabling these projects is "truly state-of-the-art, and we are very excited about it," he said.

Kate DeTrempe is a media relations specialist with Stanford Children's Health.

Previously: New imaging tool gives 3-D view of patients's anatomy
Image courtesy of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford

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