Augmented Reality in Healthcare:
Way to Medicine's Digital Transformation
Digital transformation in healthcare disrupts the traditional methods of doing business. It replaces paper-based management with electronic systems and makes the data manipulable and available. Working within the HIPAA structures for medical privacy, digital transformation adds security protocols and management controls. As a part of it, Augmented Reality applications can deliver crucial information to the point of service and provide real-time data for diagnosis treatment and surgery.
Augmented Reality refers to technology that generates images or information that can be layered on top of real-world objects. It differs from Virtual Reality which creates a completely artificial scene. Market research projects a major technological and economic role for Augmented Reality in healthcare. Dedicated conferences and expos have already outlined major healthcare technology trends in 2018, as well as a general picture of modern AR trends. In 2021, AR and VR market will reach $215 billion. By 2023, AR is expected to be a $60 billion industry.
Deloitte Research concludes that AR is the digital technology in healthcare that is most likely to disrupt the industry. Their research suggests that AR will transform the traditional healthcare business model.
AR for Patient Information, Documents, and Diagnoses
Progress in the healthcare field already advanced to using tablets and computers to record medical information. Recent innovations offer further improvements such as AR glasses. They display patient information and gesture technology that permits recording by hand movement commands.
• Emergency responders use gesture technology and keep their hands free to work with the patient's emergency. Leading AR research companies have developed gesture technology aimed at remote application by first responders to record critical information before the patient arrives at a hospital.
• Prevention and diagnostic tools that model a disease condition can manipulate a camera to replicate the effects of an eye condition such as a cataract or high blood pressure. For example, if a person can experience the debilitating effects of the condition, then they will understand the need to avoid it by changing lifestyle or other prevention steps.
Augmented Reality in Medical Surgery
AR can enhance the surgeon's ability to work in small spaces, on complicated conditions, by providing detailed imagery. Applied to simple procedures as well as complex operations like glandular tumors, AR provides an advanced level of precision.
• Microsoft HoloLens offers surgeons an extensive MR platform for planning and conducting surgical procedures. Researchers in Norway developed a technique for rendering a 3D image of the surgical area; surgeons can rehearse a procedure and plan for precise steps to accomplish their goals with minimal wasted motion and damage to other tissues.
• Spine surgery challenges surgeons for the constant danger of damage to the irreplaceable nerve connections in the spinal column. AR provides models for planning a surgical approach and a guide for precision during a spine procedure.
• Technology innovations in software contribute to the 3D reconstruction of tumors. It essentially gives a surgeon a real-time x-ray view of the surgical object but without prolonged exposure to radiation.
• Taking a look back, we should mention the first Glass-enhanced surgery by Dr. Rafael Grossman in 2013. This precedent-setting procedure used AR to generate interior and exterior views of a patient's abdominal surgery area.
If you want to know more about application of AR in surgery, take a look at this review from the online US National Library of Medicine.
AR in Cardiology
• AR can help detect, prevent, and treat heart diseases. AR advances surgical heart procedures by providing views and models that aid understanding and precise surgical steps.
• One of the key innovators in augmented surgery developed software that uses MRI, catheter feeds, and CT information to project a 3D model of a beating heart. The model displays on an AR headset. Using it, a doctor can interact with the hologram and perform cardiac procedures. The initial trials applied the tech to arrhythmia.
• Software can project models on several headsets simultaneously, so that a team of doctors can share the view. Surgeons can turn and manipulate the model. The software accepts hand gestures so that they can continue their work seamlessly.
• A practical mapping app was developed in the Netherlands as an aid for emergency situations. It can track and map the locations of defibrillator machines. Users can add places as they occur.
• A mapping app combined with a special browser can enable a phone to give the precise location of the nearest defibrillator. This quick information can be critical when every second counts in the efforts to resuscitate patients with no heartbeat.
In the field of dentistry, a German research company developed software that projects a scanned image onto a pair of smart glasses so that dentists can see the scan as they perform it. This direct view method replaces the old technology that projected the scanned image onto a monitor. The dentist had to turn repeatedly from the patient to see the monitor. With the new technology, dentists can see the models in real time that support crowns, implants, and other procedures.
AR for Medical Procedures
Inserting an IV line is a common hospital procedure. IV lines accommodate medicines and anesthesia, and standard protocol requires a certain number of them for each patient. Many hospital personnel miss the mark and must try several times before hitting a vein and getting a good connection. A creative medical research company has adapted AR technology to the task; the research produced a scanner device that locates the patient's vein and projects a picture of the underlying vein on the skin. The device improves the first-stick rate by a factor of 3.5 times.
AR for Medical Education
AR is a fundamental tool for transforming medical education. It supports delivery of education, training, and assistance.
• HoloAnatomy uses the HoloLens to generate imaging to model the human anatomy. Users can have a dimensional view of every part of the human anatomy as they learn.
• ARnatomy has produced the digital version of Anatomy, the medical education building block. Technology can replace the traditional methods of rote memorization. The latest ARnatomy developments use OCR to bring up data associated with an image of a particular bone or part of the human anatomy. Another approach offers a skeletal model with AR markers which users can manipulate.
Key Challenges to Adoption of Augmented Reality for Healthcare
Innovative technologies in the healthcare field can realize a new level of advantages. There are, however, a number of factors that need to be accounted for.
With AR in healthcare still in its early stages of development, the technology is dependent on evangelists and innovators to foster marketability. AR technologies have benefits across an array of fields, including 3D imaging, medical education and surgical planning. Investors are on the lookout for class-defining solutions, and hospital budgets are increasing to accommodate the acquisition of AR equipment for use at clinical simulation centers. Third-party services providers are also emerging to help institutions direct their resources toward solutions that can improve care.
Given the length of many major surgical procedures, battery life concerns present an obstacle in the way of adoption of AR systems. Under heavy utilization, Microsoft HoloLens is expected to provide 2.5 hours of use. Glass typically supplies 3 to 5 hours of usage, and continuously recording a video may exhaust the battery in less than an hour. Charging headsets or switching them out poses problems in the middle of surgery. Battery life for these tools must continue to improve before they can be expected to enter regular service in many medical situations.
Seamlessly tracking a scene is a critical part of providing AR-based data overlays during any procedure. Precision is absolutely essential, even while practitioners are engaged in the interpretation and diagnosis processes. While calibration efforts ought to consume fairly little time, physicians are likely to want to focus on dealing with patient's needs rather than trying to set up instruments. Tracking systems also need to become more resistant to occlusion problems.
Conclusions: AR development for healthcare is a promising,
yet still a developing sphere
It's early days yet to talk about full-scale application of Augmented Reality technologies in healthcare. Although it is developing rapidly, it is still developing. And despite it being a highly promising sphere, healthcare businesses are concerned about the hardware diversity and security-related issues. The latter will be additionally relevant for the EU, where the General Data Protection Regulation is due to be implemented in May 2018—and it will trigger additional efforts required for full software compliance.
This is where our main idea comes into play: healthcare institutions should do research on exact business cases and medical problems that this technology can solve today. We are currently attending HIMSS18, a conference where tech and healthcare go hand in hand, and the first confident steps in latest AR innovation—including mobile AR, specific AR testing, and the practical use of the HoloLens device—are being taken. That is what we will cover in our next story.
About the Author
Alan Winters, Head of US Business Development at MobiDev, is an entrepreneur with 20+ years of diverse experience directing divisions of large corporations and guiding start-ups and emerging companies.
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