Augmented reality (AR) and medical practitioners are on their way to becoming best friends. AR, along with health care software and a little mixed reality (MR), allows doctors to work on virtual models of patients’ organs, bones and other body parts.
Researchers at Birmingham City University’s Digital Media Technology Lab are devising a system that enables users to interact with virtual models and patient data using freehand movements through AR technology.
This system allows users to manipulate, navigate and interact with patient data using hand motions, letting practitioners showcase medical procedures, demonstrate lifestyle choices and display treatment effects using 3D virtual models and medical records of real patients.
This technology could potentially be used to visually identify medical problems and point to the areas where surgery needs to be conducted. It could also lead to improvements, such as better post-op treatment, or preemptive measures like highlighting the damage caused by harmful addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Using motion-detecting sensors combined with the laboratory expertise in freehand interaction in MR, this technology creates a more realistic experience in virtual environments and bridges the gap between users and AR and MR, according to Phys.org.
Potential Benefits of AR, VR in Medicine
AR is an exciting topic to discuss when it involves improving medical services. The deeper you start to dig into its true potential, the more you begin to realize that it could change the way we think about surgery, treatment and prescription drugs.
For surgeons, as I discussed above, the ability to manually manipulate an image could lead to massive improvements in surgery success rates. While medical practitioners who perform surgery are already incredibly talented, AR and MR add a whole new dimension.
Let’s take, for example, a surgeon removing a bullet from a patient in the emergency room. Time is of the essence, as the patient is bleeding severely and needs to receive stitches. Using AR capabilities, the doctor is able to pull up the patient’s medical records in real time, projecting them on a screen (or through glasses) next to the patient. Using the same screen, the surgeon is then able to see the most efficient angle for extracting the bullet while avoiding major organs. It then provides a path for the doctor to follow, saving time and ultimately the patient’s life.
Sticking with the same example, AR could also have helped the patient get to the emergency room in the first place. After receiving the gunshot wound, an onlooker called 911. The ambulance then arrived, picked the patient up and headed to the nearest hospital. The EMTs instantly took a blood sample, which allowed them to project relevant medical information and treatment through their AR glasses. With team members treating the patient in the back, the driver, through AR glasses, was able to quickly identify the nearest hospital and any potential traffic snarls. This allowed the EMTs to effectively treat the patient and arrive at the hospital in as little time as possible.
Now, let’s fast-forward to post-op. The patient survived the gunshot wound but is still experiencing pain. This is where VR comes to the rescue. Instead of taking painkillers or other addictive substances to manage the pain, the patient is able to don a VR, sensor-enabled headset that allows them heal without feeling the nasty effects of the wound.
While the above example is currently hypothetical, it’s exciting to dream about what could be. Researchers at Birmingham City University’s Digital Media Technology Lab, and many others like them, are paving the way for a better future for the medical industry.
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