The accelerating rate at which technology is growing is playing an important roll across several industries, most notably the health industry. In the future, there will be a higher level of cooperation and collaboration between technology and doctors, with augmented reality at the forefront of technological advancements.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality is a complete immersion experience that takes the user out of the physical world into a virtual world. This computer-generated simulation makes the viewer believe or feel as if they are experiencing the simulation firsthand.
Augmented reality is the technological process of superimposing computer-generated images into the physical world for the viewer to see. For instance, San Francisco-based Augmedix raised $63 million for their Google Glass-paired augmented reality platform. According to their company, they can help doctors have about two hours per day.
Over at the Maryland Blended Reality Center, they’re in the process of testing augmented reality through their “Augmentarium” program, which envisions an application where a surgeon uses an AR headset to view digital 3D images and various other pieces of data overlaid in their field of view.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “In such a scenario, the headset might display a hovering echocardiogram with vital signs and data on the characteristics of the patient’s aneurysm directly above the surgical field. The surgeon needn’t look away from the patient to multiple different displays to gather and interpret this information.”
Mostly, augmented reality is revolutionizing how surgeons and doctors are using imaging to perform faster, more accurate patient procedures. In fact, many people don’t realize how big a role imaging plays on the surgeon’s table.
Rohit Varma, an accomplished physician and scientist who specializes in changes in the optic nerve in glaucoma, is currently studying new imaging techniques in the early diagnosis of glaucomatous optic nerve damage.
Health News Digest: What exactly is the role of imaging in surgeries and how has imaging progressed?
Though imaging was once primarily used for pre-operative diagnosis and planning, it now plays a more important role during surgeries. Imaging technologies guide surgeons as they work, enabling them to operate on parts of the body that were previously inaccessible, and to conduct safer, minimally invasive procedures. Ultrasound, intraoperative computerized tomography (CT), intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and intraoperative optical coherence tomography are a few examples.
In addition, AR can allow for 3D mapping of the body and internal organs, which allows surgeons to make highly accurate incisions. AR can also display vitals, imaging data, and other information in the surgeon’s field of view as they operate. This allows the surgeon to keep their attention on the patient, instead of having to pause and look at multiple different display screens. This is a major step forward from AR imaging of the past, which was either too technologically complex for use on a mass scale or too specialized.
There have been plenty of medical advancements in diagnostic imaging, like MRIs and mammography (internal cameras have become much tinier and versatile), but for the past few decades, not much was done in the way of how imaging is displayed—most notably on a two-dimensional screen from the vantage point of the actual imaging device, rather than the doctor performing the surgery. Most importantly, before augmented reality, doctors had to create composites of a series of images, as they were unable to see a complete picture in its entirety.
Digital health can bring healthcare into the 21st century. Whether a doctor is searching for a tumor in a person’s liver, or conducting another type of minimally invasive surgery, augmented reality is a surefire way to enable doctors to treat patients more seamlessly, and with less risk of surgical errors and intraoperative surgical complications.
Health New Digest: How can augmented reality help outside the operating room, too?
The possibilities for AR in the wider healthcare field are practically endless. In a hospital setting, for example, this technology can help surgeons train for advanced procedures without needing to learn on a patient. Hospital procedures done at the bedside can also benefit from AR, since it can eliminate the need for multiple imaging devices and display patient information in real time. The result is better and most importantly safer patient care.
Because you don’t lose touch with reality when using augmented technology, it’s a great way for surgeons become more efficient in surgical operations. With technology that maps visual indicators of the patient, augmented reality becomes an invaluable aid with higher degrees of symmetry, which could help fix defects like malformations.
There are several emerging startups in the healthcare augmented reality space.
MedSights Tech is one such company paving the way. Their software technology uses augmented reality to develop the most accurate three-dimensional constructions of tumors. With this advance image reconstructing application, surgeons have even more power with detailed X-ray views in real-time, without the added risk of radiation exposure.
EchoPixel is another such company. With their True 3D Medical Visualization system, doctors could interact with patient-specific tissues and organs in a 3D space, allowing them to seamlessly and accurately identify and dissect.
With so many startups emerging, it’s clear to see that augmented reality will help make surgery much safer and with better outcomes for the patient.