Doctors at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital have a new tool in their arsenal to help with diagnosis - virtual reality technology. Traditionally, doctors have used X-rays, computerised axial tomography (CAT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for diagnosis. However, the award-winning locally developed system takes that further - converting the scans into panoramic 3D images. What is different is that the new system uses only one camera, instead of two to simulate the left and right eyes. To generate the 3D effect, two pictures are taken from the same angle with a one-to-two-second time lag to differentiate between left and right eye images, according to Carrison Tong Ka-shun, the hospital's medical physicist. Computer software combines the images, and with the aid of a pair of special glasses and a stereo projector, doctors are able to take a look inside a patient's body without having to perform surgery, he said. The system, including the software and hardware, costs HK$40,000, which was just a fraction of the cost of an Imax 3D system used in cinemas, Dr Tong said. He attributed the low cost to the fact that the Imax system required a special screen and projector. The hospital had already used the technology on a few patients who needed to undergo complicated surgery, such as removing cancers. Hospital chief executive Loretta Yam Yin-chun said the technology was especially useful when surgery needed to be carried out near a major blood vessel or nerve. 'We dare not risk a patient's life, and so a computer system would be helpful,' she said. The prototype technology, which Dr Tong and his colleagues developed last year, won the best public service application grand award and the best public service application (transformation) gold award at the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2008. Virtual reality technology could also be used to aid infection control in wards, Dr Tong said. For example, the computer system could simulate the flow of air or water droplets to indicate how beds could be rearranged to lower the risk of infection. The hospital had also used virtual reality technology to plan future developments, allowing doctors and hospital planners to take a virtual tour so that site visits were not needed. This helped minimise disturbance to busy wards, Dr Tong said.