Surgical precision: Augmented Reality (AR) in the operating theatre (AR in the OR)

Al Sisto

Blog by: Al Sisto - 25 / Jul / 2018

Augmented reality (AR) – superimposing digital imagery, text, video or even more immersive media on top of a regular of view of the local environment – has gained significant traction in recent years. Pokémon Go was a phenomenon almost immediately on its release in the summer of 2016.

But AR has far more applications than entertainment and gaming. As we have previously blogged, the medical sector is enjoying a wide range of innovations and developments; within that sector. In this blog, we’re taking a closer look at the surgery discipline.

Under the skin

Whilst surgery clearly encompasses a wide range of specialties, all depend on being able to see inside the patient, making accurate predictions as to where a cut should be placed, a pin or plate inserted. AR technology makes this visualisation more accurate and more in-depth than ever before. 

Consider, for example, the images generated by diagnostic procedures such as MRI and CT scans, or X-rays. AR technology can not only combine these together; it can also convert them from two-dimensional to three-dimensional images, and then superimpose that 3D view directly onto the patient’s body, using a video projector or smart projector. In turn, surgeons can pinpoint precisely where surgery targets or other points are situated on the patient’s body, and plan more accurate and targeted operations.

Consider, also, an operation in progress. The same technology and processes can enable surgeons to see precisely where particular cuts, injections and insertions should be made. This improves accuracy, which in turn makes operations run more efficiently, and improves patient outcomes.

Then there’s surgery training and skills development. AR can be text or video-based, offering medical practitioners precise instructions to ‘cut here’ or ‘inject there’. It can be used to deliver a video demonstration of a particular movement or incision before it is taken. And it can be used to generate accurate representations of real-life operations on dummy patients. All of these possibilities make for more immersive teaching, training and demonstrations, enabling trainees to develop and practice their skills in more targeted ways.

The Microsoft HoloLenshas been key to many early applications of AR in the operating theatre, enabling surgeons and other medical staff to interact with holographic media in truly lifesaving ways. Doctors at Imperial College and St Mary’s Hospital in London, for example, have been using the headsets to perform reconstructive leg surgery on victims of traffic accidents. The headsets are used to precisely locate the blood vessels at the site of the wound (which may, of course, be damaged and hard to find manually) so that skin taken from elsewhere on the body can be precision attached and aid healing.

This, however, is only the beginning. AR has the potential to enhance surgery dramatically, both on an immediate basis in individual operations, and on a longer-term basis in terms of training and experimentation. Yes – augmented reality can make for exciting video games and multi-layered shopping experiences – it also really can save lives. 

Read more about Tern’s recent investment in FundamentalVR, a company that is set to transform training in surgery. FundamentalVR delivers VR haptic 'flight simulators' for surgery creating a safe, measurable & repeatable space to refine skills.

 

Topics: IoT, augmented reality, AR, healthcare

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