Virtual reality tool quantifies physics of a doctor's touch

A doctor's hands are two of the most important diagnostic tools he or she has, allowing the physician to detect subtle signs of disease or injury just by touching a patient.

Exercising that expertise always has required the presence of two individuals in the same physical space at the same time: doctor and patient. Until now.

University at Buffalo researchers are developing a system that will allow physicians to use a new form of virtual reality, called physically based VR, to store information about what they feel during an exam. That information then will be accessible to the examining physician at a later time or to consulting physicians at another location, allowing them to experience the exam as though they had performed it themselves.

They will report on the progress of their work July 23-24 at the World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering in Chicago.

With this "Virtual Human Model for Medical Applications," physicians will wear a customized virtual-reality glove during the patient examination that collects data on what the physician is feeling through sensors located in the glove's fingertips.

Thenkurussi Kesavadas, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, director of the university's Virtual Reality Lab and the project's principal investigator, explained that at this time, there is no way that a physician at a second site can share that experience without personally examining the patient. In very serious cases -- such as when a patient has been diagnosed at a small, rural hospital -- the patient may have to be airlifted to a more comprehensive medical facility where he or she can be examined in person.

The VR system under development at UB could make some of those costly, not to mention traumatic, airlifts unnecessary.

"Using our customized data-collection glove and the detailed understanding we are developing about the physics behind a doctor's touch during an exam, we expect

Contact: Ellen Goldbaum
716-645-5000 ext1415
University at Buffalo

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