Radiologist Harnesses Virtual Reality as Powerful Teaching Tool

March 13 2018
Ziv Haskal, MD, watches the radiology procedure in virtual reality.

Physicians, trainees and even laypeople can now join an expert radiologist as he performs one of the most difficult medical procedures of its kind — thanks to virtual reality.

Ziv Haskal, MD, of the University of Virginia Health System, has created a dramatic teaching tool using the power of VR. Whether watched on a high-end virtual-reality system or an inexpensive cardboard viewer, Haskal’s virtual procedure puts the viewer right in the room with him as he creates a new blood vessel through a small nick in a patient’s neck.

It’s a complicated procedure – Haskal calls it an “interventional radiology heptathlon” – and his use of virtual reality is set to transform how it is taught. “The current means of teaching is a physical person has to arrive … and go over with the doc beforehand. Or they have to look at a lousy 2D animation on a screen,” Haskal said. “Once you put [VR] glasses on people, it’s like you walk them through a completely different door.”

IR in VR

From inside the VR goggles, viewers can look around in 360 degrees as the procedure, known as a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt, unfolds around them. Haskal guides them step-by-

Ziv Haskal, MD, is using virtual reality as a teaching tool.

Ziv Haskal, MD, is using virtual reality as a teaching tool.

step through the entire procedure, and strategic use of picture-in-picture lets the viewer see both what Haskal is doing and what he is seeing.

Haskal designed the virtual-reality experience as a teaching tool for physicians and trainees, but he can foresee many other game-changing applications. VR might be used to show a patient what to expect during a procedure, to teach a nursing student what must be kept sterile in an operating room or to provide a refresher for physicians who have not performed the procedure recently.

“Watching it in a 2D animation, listening to a lecture, watching a physician on a video simply fails to convey the subtleties of the procedure,” Haskal said. “We’re putting the viewer in the actual environment, where they can return again and again.”

Lifting the Curtain (in Virtual Reality)

Haskal unveiled the VR tool at the SIR 2018 Scientific Meeting in Los Angeles last weekend. He plans to make the VR publicly available to everyone, for free, on the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology website. (Video clips from the VR video can’t do it justice, but to get a sneak peak at what it’s like, visit UVA’s Making of Medicine medical research blog.

Ultimately, Haskal hopes to create many more virtual-reality teaching tools for healthcare professionals. “With this approach,” he said, “doctors are simply going to be able to do things better.”


Joshua Barney
Senior Marketing & Public Relations Specialist
Phone: 434.243.1988