How Augmented Reality is Training the Surgeons of the Future

Emerging Technology in Healthcare Training

16.04.2018 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Business Insider
Photo by Business Insider

Over the past several decades, advancements in technology have given yield to significant advancements in modern medicine. From wearable technology and drug-transmitting plasters to dialysis machines and CT scans, innovation has fundamentally changed the way patients are both diagnosed and treated.

On a more general level, technology is increasingly providing new methods by which medical practitioners are trained and educated. With a global market expected to reach over $1.5 billion by 2020, the emerging technology of augmented reality steadily growing with significant implications for the healthcare sector.

From providing real-time data and assistance during complicated surgical procedures to training surgeons and supporting aftercare and administration, augmented reality’s potential benefits to healthcare and our well-being are only becoming popularly recognised over recent months.

Virtual and augmented reality has developed into a significant tool in the workflow of surgeries, with products and services in medical and healthcare training currently having most of their basis in surgical simulators. The increasing prominence of minimally-invasive procedures within healthcare has encouraged the HealthTech industry to create more AR/VR-enabled products to assist in training, rehearsal and surgical performance in the operating room. Simulators have emerged as a versatile tool, with most modules offering opportunities for development, allowing new techniques and procedures to be demonstrated via the technology.

CT Scan

The success of virtual and augmented reality in medicine essentially lies in its capability of visualising, manipulating or interacting with digital data that is representative of a real-life environment. Virtual environments and entities can be recreated with the technology, including therapeutic simulations, patient anatomies, surgical sites and operating rooms. Augmented reality, however, superimposes, integrates and injects virtual elements and visuals over real-life settings, most commonly taking the form of holographic projections visible only to the person wearing the headset. Whilst the technology is more commonly recognised in games such as Resident Evil and Pokemon Go, augmented reality has found its way into day-to-day medical practice, with many doctors and healthcare professionals across the world now using connected devices such as smartphones and tablets to leverage the technology, adding valuable data to the treatment plans of patients.

The benefits of AR and VR technologies in medicine are plentiful. Where previously minimally invasive surgery required monitors in the operating room to display vital stats and images delivered by an endoscopic camera, surgeons can now wear smart glasses during the procedure, allowing them to stay focused on the task at hand whilst reducing the likelihood of error.

From a patient perspective, the technology is equally impressive, with many augmented reality apps now offering the capability to illustrate the impact of particular diseases, helping in the process of educating family members and carers in regards to the pathology and consequences of various medical conditions

The advancements of virtual and augmented reality have already led to the conception of technologies such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is not only changing how doctors learn about human anatomy but also assists in patient diagnosis by overlaying CT scans and other imagery onto a patient’s body. HoloLens is as close as we can get to x-ray vision, with such products assisting in the collection of accurate visual information and real-time data.

Although the technology is still in its infancy, the role of AR and VR in medicine is substantial and will only continue to grow in importance in the future.

Microsoft’s HoloLens

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"Augmented reality will take some time to get right, but I do think that it's profound." - Tim Cook, Apple CEO

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