Changing the Way Surgeons Operate with Mixed Reality

Healthcare is one of the areas with most potential for dramatic improvement with the implementation of Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality Technologies

As countries around the world struggle to find health care provision models that balance the needs of aging populations with shrinking budgets — and as startups jostle to get into operating rooms — the virtual world is already being used to impact the health care of real people.

“I could be in Cleveland and teach a group of students in, say, London with all of us able to see one another and the holograms simultaneously,” says Professor Mark Griswold, Case Western Reserve’s faculty leader for the university’s efforts with Microsoft’s HoloLens, the $3,000 developer-edition-only augmented reality glasses. “The professor can see how students are interacting with the hologram in real time, and respond immediately with additional explanations or encouragement as needed.”

Devices like the HoloLens and consumer VR helmets like Samsung’s Gear VR and Facebook’s Oculus have received the most attention as vehicles for escape, but their real-world applications are growing fastest in the workplace. IDC, which pegs current industry revenues at around $5.6 billion, says much of the growth in shipments of VR and AR headsets over the next five years will come from industrial uses (80% a year), versus consumer uses (50%), like video games, films, porn, and other entertainment. Among current non-health care HoloLens customers, for instance, are companies like Lowe’s, Volvo, and ThyssenKrupp, whose technicians use the glasses to operate on ailing elevators.

In health care, revenues for VR and AR technologies reached nearly a billion dollars in 2016, according to Kalorama Research. Some estimate that by 2025, that number could reach over $5 billion, thanks to uses in areas like telemedicine, pain relief, robotic surgery, and, increasingly, medical simulations.

Medical instructors say a VR helmet, coupled with haptic-feedback “syringes,” can help a surgeon practice a complex operation in detail before carrying it out — or help a doctor with limited access to education locally get better medical training, improving patient experience and outcomes. A pair of augmented reality goggles can put an animated “patient” in front of students, making the expensive dummies obsolete altogether. And as medical operations become more sophisticated and high-tech, computer glasses could help get practitioners up to speed faster.

Health care experts have proposed new technologies like these as one of various solutions to what some have called a crisis in medicine: The United States could be facing a shortfall of between 48,000 and 100,000 physicians by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Since it takes between five and 10 years on average to train a new physician, medical industry experts say the U.S. urgently needs more people to enter that training pipeline now, particularly in highly specialized fields: The greatest shortfall, on a percentage basis, will be in the demand for surgeons, especially those who treat cancer and other diseases more common to older people.

Alleviating that shortfall and upgrading decades-old simulations with mixed reality could also ferry in cost savings that can’t come soon enough. In the U.S., the cost of health care continues to surge, far beyond the price of drugs: Open-heart surgery is 70% more than the next highest country; an appendectomy over two times more. And the price for a day in the hospital is about five times more in the U.S. than other developed countries.

Tech Trends’ Virtual Reality Consultancy services offers support for companies looking to get a foothold in the growing Mixed Reality spectrum and enhance their brand strategy with these exciting new technologies.

Originally published at Alice Bonasio.