Michigan surgeon first to perform virtual reality hand surgery in the United States

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)— Virtual reality is a computer-generated experience that can be similar to the real-world, or completely different. People can physically and mentally engage with these experiences by using special electronic equipment with sensors, helmet, screen, and even gloves.

Although, virtual reality can be used as entertainment several individuals in the medical field are using this technology to help with mental health, PTSD, and in the last few years virtual reality hand surgery.

Dr. James Clarkson, the Director of Michigan State University’s hand management unit and an Assistant Professor of surgery at MSU is the only surgeon in the United States to perform virtual reality hand surgery. Dr. Clarkson was inspired to take a deeper look into virtual reality a few years ago by his own kids while they were playing with a galaxy phone. He realized, this could change the future of hand surgery and use local anesthetics rather than anesthesia for minor surgeries.

“At that time I was trying to introduce local anesthetic into my practice but my patients kept saying look just put me out doc I don’t want to know anything about it,” Dr. Clarkon said, “Then, I thought what can I do to distract them and my kids and I were doing VR enjoying ourselves they were about 6 and 8 at that time when we were doing all kinds of things with these galaxy phones and I thought let’s try it.”

During the trial period they tested virtual reality out on patients during surgery, and had a group that didn’t use virtual reality. They found 80 percent of their trial patients stated they had fun during their surgical procedure compared to the group who didn’t use a virtual reality in the process.

Ever since 2017, Dr. Clarkson has performed local anesthetic virtual reality hand surgeries at Michigan State University’s health system. He’s the only doctor in the United States to specifically perform virtual reality hand surgery.

The process works by Dr. Clarkson first meeting with patients, diagnosing, and letting them understand their options. If patients opt for VR hand surgery, Dr. Clarkson gives them a VR headset where he controls the depiction of what they can see on a smaller screen. His patients can speak to him during the surgery and Dr. Clarkson educates them on what they need to do post-surgery.

“Local anesthetic are given in the room before you go in and if you’re very nervous we can give you the virtual reality with the local anesthesia. But mostly, we just inject the hand with the patent just with you. Just like the dentist,” Dr. Clarkson stated.”During the procedure we put the virtual reality headset on, and they get to pick a number of different experiences and those experiences last just longer than the surgery, but they can talk to me as well during the surgery.”

Dr. Clarkson told 6 news reporter Samana Sheikh performing these virtual reality hand surgeries are an emotional experience for him because he always wanted to do something unique.

Dr. Clarkson partnered with a company called “wide awake VR,” where he also serves as the Chief Medical Officer. This company helps educate the community on what virtual reality surgery is and what it entails, and provides the latest virtual reality equipment for health experts to use.

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