CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Doctors at the University of Virginia are finding a new use for technology that could benefit their patients.

Virtual reality goggles will now be used as a teaching tool to prepare physicians for difficult procedures. That means that people from all walks of life will now be able to experience what it's like to be in an operating room with the help of virtual reality goggles.

“I do high-tech image-guided procedures using tiny little tubes that can fix almost anything in the body and leave a Band-Aid behind,” says Dr. Ziv J. Haskal, a professor and interventional radiologist at UVA.

Dr. Haskal has created a new virtual reality tool to give people his point of view in the operating room.

“Virtual reality is a way to shoot something allowing someone to look completely in 360 degrees space and essentially be immersed in that experience,” says Haskal.

This new application will help doctors train for procedures and allow patients to prepare for their upcoming procedure.

“So about a year and a half ago, I realized this was a completely underrecognized opportunity for training providers in medicine so I started this project which is essentially going live,” says Haskal.

Haskal plans to unveil this new VR tool to over 200 people at a scientific conference in Los Angeles who will join him in a virtual operation room. After that unveiling, it'll then be made available to the public.

His hope is that patients will use this tool to help them better understand procedures they may have to go through, and for doctors to familiarize themselves with a procedure if it's been a while since they last performed it.

“I think the use of virtual reality for this type of training, opportunity, and demonstration may be the very first of its kind,” says Haskal.

Once released, it will be available for free for people and physicians around the world to learn a procedure.

Haskal believes that the most important thing for a patient is safety and outcomes, which means ample physician training.

03/13/2018 Release from the University of Virginia Health System:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., March 13, 2018 – Physicians, trainees and even laypeople can now experience what it's like inside an operating room as an expert radiologist performs one of the most difficult medical procedures of its kind.

Ziv Haskal, MD, of the University of Virginia Health System, has created a dramatic teaching tool using the power of virtual reality. Whether watched on a high-end VR system or an inexpensive cardboard viewer, Haskal’s virtual procedure puts the viewer right in the operating 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 VR 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-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 VR 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 is set to unveil the VR tool in dramatic fashion this weekend, when he plans to ask approximately 200 attendees at the SIR 2018 Scientific Meeting in Los Angeles to don VR goggles simultaneously and step into the operating room with him. “Culmination of eons of work,” he recently tweeted. “Blow your mind/See the future.”

After the unveiling, Haskal 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 at

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.”