New Tech: Augmented Reality In The OR?

Virtual reality headsets have been all the rage for some time. They immerse the wearer in a complete virtual world, and are typically used for gaming. Augmented reality, on the other hand, overlays virtual items on the real world so both are visible at the same time. Think the notorious Pokemon Go app:

What if this technology could be used for medical purposes? You could overlay diagnostic or anatomic information on your patient to help guide therapy, surgery, etc.

A group at the University of Alberta in Canada have been playing with this technology. ProjectDR takes any kind of image-related information and projects it directly on a patient.The patient is first scanned using surface markers like they do when making movies:

Obviously, no fancy suit or huge number of markers is needed. Once this is accomplished, the diagnostic information can be projected onto the patient. The patient can move, and the projector will compensate and keep the projection anatomically correct.

Here is a short video that demonstrates the system:

So is this useful? Unfortunately, not yet. It may eventually be good for office-based trauma professionals, but it needs further refinement. This version uses an actual digital projector, which means it will be subject to shadows which will interfere with viewing, especially if a surgeon gets his or her big head in the way.

Here’s how it will really have to work: The system could function quite well in surgical procedures. Imagine the surgeon being able to don a VR headset (lightweight, please!) and see the surgical field with key information overlaid on the display. Or even easier, incorporate it in the DaVinci robotic system display. Add vital signs in the upper corner and details of anatomic structures that have not been surgically exposed yet. It could help show anatomic anomalies in great detail, such as vascular variants. And heck, why not throw in some on-demand magnification as well?

As with most new and exciting tech that hits the general media, a version that is actually usable by clinicians is several years away. But it should be fun when it finally gets here!

Reference: University of Alberta ProjectDR system

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog