The days of relying on x-ray technology to perform surgery better will one day end. The medical industry is now looking to AR technology to not just revolutionise surgical robotics, but also achieve new heights in surgeon training, education and basic patient treatment. AR works by projecting 3D images on to a glass screen worn by the surgeon in order to provide 3D perception. This allows doctors to interact with real-time medical information without having to look away from the patient or touch any other display surface.

Augmented reality is entering operating theatres around the world and is set to assist doctors to complete sensitive stages of surgery more effectively. Here’s how it’s being done:

Using head-mounted displays to relay real-time data

Doctors can use AR-powered head-mounted displays (HMDs) to make surgeries safer and incredibly precise. HMDs work similarly to smart glasses and virtual reality goggles, relaying critical patient data instantly along with relevant medical images and outlining the remaining stages of the surgery, all without obstructing the surgeon’s view of the patient. This means that doctors can access important information without having to lift a finger or ever breaking their focus.

Projecting 3D images right onto the patient

AR technology in surgical theatres is not necessarily confined to HMDs. Doctors can simply project detailed AR images to overlay the patient’s body before beginning surgery. This gives them an extremely precise idea of where the patient’s major blood vessels, organs and nerves are located, thereby increasing the overall safety of the procedure. This also allows for faster surgeries and enhanced pre-operative surgical planning. So far, the main medical disciplines actively using AR are the fields of otolaryngology, neurosurgery and maxillofacial surgery.

Training and evaluating staff

Augmented reality tools can be used to train and evaluate the skills of medical personnel. And unlike VR, AR technology allows for the use of tangible objects which can help testers gather accurate tactile feedback. And as with VR, testers can plan for particular scenarios and test staff reactions to unlikely surgical scenarios. This leads to hospitals having teams of well-prepared staff and surgeons who can easily handle challenging surgeries. Using AR inside operating rooms can also reduce the overall cost of surgeries, as it removes the need for too many assistants and single-purpose screens to display medical data.

Photo: Hand surgery by esens91410 licensed under Creative Commons 4.0