Real-time information is critical while performing a procedure. Doctors often require data from outside sources to proceed in a difficult situation. But obtaining such information during an intervention can be problematic and may even place the patient at risk. Augmented reality (AR) is one technology that is impacting the delivery of healthcare by making critical information available immediately.
AR in Pop Culture
Even if you are unfamiliar with the name, chances are, AR is more familiar to you than you think. AR is a favorite prop in crime dramas. As the protagonist studies the situation with high-tech equipment, a computer enhances the view with extra information. False color can make important features more visible. Overlays can give additional information. This allows the hero discover something that otherwise would have gone undiscovered.
Real World AR
Augmented reality combines images from the real world with computer-generated information. It can provide labels, numeric data, magnification, and cross-sectional or superimposed views. It’s almost like having superpowers to see things which the naked eye can’t. The user can change the view, adding and removing information or panning and zooming. Headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens let people use AR and virtual reality information to enhance their experiences.
AR’s Usefulness in Medicine
Getting more information without looking away from the patient will allow doctors to perform procedures with fewer errors and complete them more proficiently. As AR is adopted, we will likely witness higher success rates and improved recovery times.
AR in the OR
Royal Philips has announced the development of AR surgical navigation technology for spine surgery. Minimally invasive procedures have become more common in recent years, but they reduce the surgeon’s view of the interior of the body. Real-time imaging already helps doctors to view the spine. Philips’ system will combine the external and internal views into an enhanced composite. The doctor will have a clearer picture of the relationship between the incisions into the patient’s skin and the positioning of surgical tools on the spine.
The Technical University of Munich has begun work on a visualization and navigation system for keyhole surgery. The aim is to let the surgeon see a 3-D image of the patient’s inner body, superimposed on the direct view of the patient with a head-mounted display. The position of instruments in the patient’s body is also shown. Currently, doctors must look back and forth between the patient and a screen that shows the internal view. The internal image comes from computer tomography, which gives a better view of soft tissue than X-rays can.
Another European project, called VOSTARS, uses a headset with a camera to combine what the doctor sees with previously obtained medical images of the patient. Information such as anesthetic data, breathing and heart rates, and interior views supplement the direct view. The system combines optical see-through (OST), the doctor’s actual view of the patient, with video see-through (VST), the superimposed video data. The combination is intended to provide “the naturalistic ‘feel’ of OST while having the fluid interaction of the VST.” A working prototype is planned for May 2018.
AR as a Learning Platform
Medical students, residents, fellows, and even medical device reps can gain a more realistic understanding of surgery using AR during training. Participants can watch an operation from the surgeon’s perspective and see the physicians annotations at the same time.
AR will also improve the ability to receive immediate and consults, sharing the OR or cath lab virtually with a specialist, instead of wasting precious minutes or hours. The potential for AR in telemedicine is similar. Doctors who have performed uncommon or new and emerging procedures can easily lend their expertise in real time to surgeons who are less familiar with the technique.
Within a few years, augmented reality, like artificial intelligence is will be an accepted part of medical technology. Fewer mistakes will be made, treatment and training will become more efficient, and patients will receive better treatment.
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