Virtual reality helping pediatric patients in San Francisco

ByTimothy Didion KGO logo
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Virtual reality helping pediatric patients in San Francisco
UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland is using virtual reality to prepare patients for surgery.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Anna Jesena has volunteered to take a journey inside a child's brain.

It's an experience that's helping parents and young patients at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland to navigate a scary situation with much more confidence.

"The not knowing is the hardest part. There's a lot of fear that comes out of the unknown," says Kurtis Auguste, M.D. who heads the program.

Dr. Auguste uses a virtual reality system known as Surgical Theater. The technology has helped revolutionize brain surgeries by creating a precise, 3D pathway into a patient's brain powered by layers of high-end imaging.

And now, doctors at Children's are tweaking that experience to help families follow along.

Parents and young patients are projected as avatars. Using a point of view headset, and gamer-style controls, they can explore the area doctors plan to operate on.

"The big red thing here is the tumor," says Dr. Auguste as he guides Anna along.

Families can see the doctor's avatar and each other's as they wander in the virtual space. They can also point to anything they may have a question about with a single click. The interface would be familiar to almost any child or teenager.

"We're really not sharing it with them, they're sharing it with us," says Dr. Auguste. "And by communicating they're disease, their anatomy using the video game medium, I'm using a language they understand."

He says in early sessions doctors have been able to lower anxiety levels dramatically for families and even very young patients.

The Virtual Reality technology is being made possible by donors who can adopt the suites through a foundation. For more information go here.