One of the technologies that can most effectively impact the medical sector with numerous benefits is indeed Augmented Reality. Let’s find out what its potential is in this complex field.
Until recently, surgeons have relied on microscope oculars or other camera systems to operate. However, surgeons also typically depend on their own eyes and interpretations to execute the most precise tasks. Two of the most difficult surgical practices, neurosurgery, and retinal microsurgery, have seen experimentation with augmented reality smart glasses in these past years.
These smart glasses not only keep a surgeon’s head upm but it immerses the surgeon into a high-resolution 3D visual representation of their subject. Experts and surgeons that have piloted the new systems believe the added comfort and visual information will allow surgeries to operate more efficiently and effectively.
A growing number of hospitals worldwide will be adopting these new systems in the coming years, pushing the boundaries of surgical reality as we know it. Augmented Reality is transforming the medical care sector, increasing precision during operations, reducing medical errors and giving doctors and patients a better understanding of the difficult problems in the medical field.
In this article we will discuss how healthcare, the delivery of medical care to patients and wellness, will benefit from the introduction of augmented reality technology.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality technology, which idea is to add additional information to the real scene. This allows us to interact differently with the real world and provides the doctor, in the case of applications in medicine, with the visualization of the organs.
Contrary to Virtual Reality which aims to replace the real world and the user with a synthetic environment (where we cannot see the environment that surrounds us), Augmented Reality allows us to see the real situation which is enriched by virtual objects useful for performing complex tasks. It will seem to the user that virtual and real objects coexist in the same space and, for this reason, AR increases the user’s perception and interaction with the environment by providing visual information that the user could not directly detect with his or her senses.
Basically, Augmented Reality is a system that, by acquiring a real scene, is able to enrich this scene with graphic elements and digital information. The real world is “increased”, or virtually enriched, with additional graphic and textual information, synchronized and computer generated.
All applications whose purpose is to increase the visual perception of physical space with images and information taken from virtual space are classified as Augmented Reality systems. The result is that the real and virtual environments seem to coexist and the user can move freely in the scene, with the possibility also to interact with it. All this must obviously be processed in an optimal manner, or in such a way that the user has the perception of a single scene in which the real and the virtual are two indistinguishable entities.
In literature, the term Augmented Reality often appears associated with the terms of Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). It can certainly be said that Augmented Reality represents an evolution of Virtual Reality.
Augmented Reality Applications in the Operating Room
One of the most exciting applications of Augmented Reality is indeed the medical field.
The future of medicine is becoming more and more high-tech. Augmented Reality devices are pushing forward the frontiers of surgery. Researchers have been developing a device that can provide crucial assistance during delicate operations such as maxillofacial surgery.
During such surgeries, surgeons have to often reposition parts of the skull, to fix malformations for instance. Therefore, by mapping visual indicators on the patient, it guarantees symmetry. This is an infallible aid. These smart glasses also provide important information to increase accuracy and reduce time spent looking away from the operation.
The main feature is to provide crucial information directly in front of a physician’s eyes. It takes accurate virtual information and overlays it on the surgical area to guarantee making an incision with extreme precision.
AR interfaces allow virtual images to be superimposed on the patient’s body, providing doctors with an almost “X-ray” vision. In this way, the surgeon can perform more precise procedures such as, for example, the perforation of the cranial boxes for brain surgery or a biopsy or a laparoscopic operation. Currently, several AR systems are being developed for different medical applications.The applications in this sector are fundamentally focused on image-guided surgery, in which images acquired from the patient are used to plan or carry out the operation.
Another medical industry in which it is being used is the rehabilitation sector as it allows, for example, for people who have mobility problems in the case of certain disorders related to Parkinson’s disease, to visualize reference points superimposed on the real space.
Among the implementations and research of AR systems applied to the field of medicine, one of the most advanced research institutes is that of IRCAD (Istitut de Recherche Contre le Cancers de l’Appareil Digestif) (Research Institute against Digestive Cancer) in Strasbourg, France
IRCAD is a prestigious basic and applied research center, which adopts the latest and most innovative surgical technologies. Among the numerous researches and the various fields of application on which IRCAD researchers concentrate, there is also Augmented Reality. The figures show some examples of the applications developed.
Another important group working with augmented reality is that of CAMP (Computer Aided Medical Procedures) research group, directed by Professor Nassir Navab in Munich (Germany).
It has numerous projects that deal with Augmented Reality systems for medical uses and contexts. Among these projects, there is, for example, the one related to the “3D User Interface for Medical Interventions“. User interfaces that, using 3D data, are used to experiment advanced interaction techniques and alternative solutions in surgery. In their NARVIS project (Navigated Augmented Reality Visualization System), CT images are used for an AR system useful for spine surgery. For more information, check also the following article.
Spinal Column Surgery
Augmedics, has developed Vizor, an Augmented Reality display mounted on the head (as if they were glasses) to perform surgical procedures of the spine managing to see the patient’s anatomy through the skin and tissue, as if they had a “rayed vision X “.
The system can project the patient’s anatomy, in real time, directly onto the surgeon’s retina, with the aim of increasing safety in surgery, reducing X-ray radiation and facilitating minimally invasive procedures. Read more from the following article.
AR AND MEDICINE: OUTSIDE THE OPERATING ROOM
The potential for medical training is enormous and not yet fully exploited. There are patient simulations, through Augmented Reality, which are an excellent pool of possible experiences for doctors and aspirants. In these cases, it is possible to analyze and try cures and new techniques without running any risk for the patient.
Furthermore, another very important evaluation should be made. In this simulation we have the possibility of dealing with a very wide spectrum of diseases, syndromes and any imaginable variable, without waiting for them to manifest themselves in a fortunate manner. Augmented Reality also makes education and training compelling and immersive, so that the concepts learned are easier to memorize and remember.
Moving on to everyday cases, we can imagine the use of AR in medicine in the most varied cases, for example:
- Doctors are supported and guided in the diagnosis.
- Nurses are aided to identify veins more easily
- Patients can explain their symptoms more accurately.
- Enables patients to fully understand the treatments to be performed
- The nearest defibrillators are located and used correctly.
- Mothers can work with the doctor to diagnose their children’s problems through their smart glasses.
- Pharmaceutical companies can develop innovative systems to promote new treatments and drugs
Future for AR in learning processes
Augmented Reality has the potential to offer a safe, suitable, and economically viable training environment in which different training activities can be practiced. In such controlled environments students can make mistakes without negative consequences, while professors can focus on patients rather than students.
Augmented reality is significant for learning and can offer different organizational advantages as it allows it to be applied in a very similar physical environment if not equal to the professional work environment, the virtual part also allows you to view information otherwise unreachable in immediate time.
The use of smart glasses with augmented reality has several purposes:
- Colleges, medical or dental students: each student can have a virtual prototype of the prosthesis for 3D studies.
- Technical books in medicine: the addition of written information with augmented reality makes learning more effective.
- Unlike physical prosthesis, the virtual model is never harmful; it does not break and can always be updated.
Technological developments in medical imaging, such as CT, MRI and ultrasound, have allowed doctors to obtain detailed information on the patient’s anatomy and physiology.
Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) techniques, such as laparoscopy, have allowed complex procedures to be performed minimizing incisions and reducing patient trauma. However, one of the difficulties of these techniques is due to the limited vision of the organs. Thus, many research activities have been oriented towards the development of assistance systems and support for the doctor during the different phases of the operation.
In this regard, Augmented Reality has proven to improve healthcare and showed potential to revolutionize medicine. Augmented Reality will transform the medical care sector, increasing precision during operations, reducing medical errors and giving doctors and patients a better understanding of the difficult problems in the medical field.