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Haptic Tools Let Doctors Practice On Virtual PatientsHaptic Tools Let Doctors Practice On Virtual Patients

Sidebar to: The Doctor Is In. -- Dr. William Bithoney, envisions examining patients hundreds or thousands of miles away while ''virtually'' feeling the same bumps, lumps, and other anomalies that a bedside doctor feels.

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Dr. William Bithoney, physician-in-chief at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Paterson, N.J., envisions examining patients hundreds or thousands of miles away while "virtually" feeling the same bumps, lumps, and other anomalies that a bedside doctor feels. That simulated tactical sensation may soon be made possible through haptic technology.

Haptic technology is already used in some consumer gadgets such as electronic-game joysticks and steering wheels--it's the technology used to create the feeling of force while driving around a tight bend in the road. Haptic technology, which is related to virtual reality, enables the simulated sense of touch and force.
CyberGlove
Immersion's technology, which uses sensors to track motions in a hand, such as how much each joint bends, is used by aerospace manufacturers and automakers.The haptic-glove application that Bithoney envisions is sophisticated and a bit futuristic, but it's not outside the realm of possibility, says Dean Chang, chief technology officer at Immersion Corp., a maker of haptic products. Immersion markets the CyberGlove, which uses sensors to track all motions in a hand, such as how much each joint bends. Combined with Immersion's CyberGrasp force-feedback system, which fits over the CyberGlove, users can feel the size and shape of computer-generated 3-D objects in a simulated virtual world, Chang says. These products are already used by aerospace and automobile manufacturers to design jet engines and car dashboards. As for haptic technology's use in medicine, Immersion sells devices that simulate what a doctor would feel when removing a gallbladder during a laparoscopic surgery. The company's Laparoscopic Impulse Engine allows a medical student or training physician to feel the interaction of his or her surgical tools with various biological tissues and organs in a simulated surgery. Such haptic medical tools let physicians practice their techniques more extensively before performing actual procedures on real patients, Chang says. "The doctor can feel what's going on in a patient, without the actual patient." close this window

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