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Autopsies conducted in virtual reality?

According to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), New Delhi and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are collaborating on a world first — virtual reality autopsy techniques.

Virtual reality Image ID: 89195113 (L)The ICMR and AIIMS have studied global practices and taken up this project for “dignified management of dead body,” Vardhan said, adding that family members of the deceased feel uncomfortable with the traditional way of postmortem. To this end, the technique would allow for analysis of the body without any dissection at all.

India is rapidly digitising many aspects of life, from finance to the frequent use of mobile phones and computers. Healthcare is no exception to this trend, with ever more startups across India developing progressively more inventive means of addressing a number of the healthcare issues commonly faced in India. 

Many of these simply integrate mobile phones and internet connectivity to allow devices that often run through the use of a cell phone to provide healthcare access in geographically isolated regions. The virtual reality autopsy, however, represents a significant step forward. In this instance, India is leading the world. While little information is currently available about the innovation, Vardhan has assured that the technique — along with the necessary machinery and programmes – are to be developed and used within a six month time period.

Importantly, Vardhan has also claimed the process to be more time-efficient and cost-effective than current postmortem analysis. Using this technique, he claims, an autopsy can be conducted in just thirty minutes, compared to an average of two and a half hours using current techniques. With this being the case it is likely that costs can be minimised simply through time saved using the technique.

For some, religious reasons or cultural beliefs can leave the family in distress knowing that the body needs to be dissected to establish a cause of death. In this regard, the virtual reality autopsy technique is not only more rapid, but is also sensitive to the cultural concerns of the family.

There may be a downside to this factor, however. Should families become used to the fact that dissection is no longer the norm in establishing cause of death, other aspects of medicine that take place after death, such as organ donation, may also be dissuaded. An estimated one million people in India are experiencing end-stage organ failure, yet just 3,500 to 5,000 organ transplants are carried out yearly. This highlights a need for increased organ donation. Should the virtual reality autopsy dissuade donation further, yet more lives could be lost due to the elongated waiting lists.


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