Will augmented reality in the OR will reduce surgical errors? 5 notes

Augmented reality, a type of technology that superimposes digital images onto a user's field of view, may be able to decrease medical errors and improve hospital costs, two researchers affiliated with the University of Maryland wrote in a Harvard Business Review article.

Here are five notes on the potential of AR in medical care.

1. In the article, Sarah Murthi, MD, an associate professor of surgery at Baltimore-based University of Maryland School of Medicine's trauma center, and Amitabh Varshney, dean of the college of computer, mathematical and natural sciences at University of Maryland, College Park, noted almost every surgery involves a scan prior to incision to guide the procedure. However, image displays are "basically the same" today as they were in the 1950s.

2. Imaging data, such as angiography and CT scans, are displayed on 2-D screens, spread across the operating room. These displays force clinicians to look away from the patient to gather data while operating, and divert their attention to fusing information from various screens. The images are also displayed from the perspective of the imaging device, rather than the viewer, resulting in a physician having to mentally project the images onto a patient while conducting a procedure.

3. AR may be able to revolutionize image display during surgery by concurrently showing imaging data and patient information from the perspective of the physician, without having to look away from the patient. The authors noted researchers at the university's Maryland Blended Reality Center Augmentarium are prototyping AR applications in medicine. For example, researchers are developing an application in which a surgeon is able to see digital images and patient data overlaid on his or her field of view using an AR headset.

4. In addition to safer procedures, the authors argued AR may also be able to reduce costs for a hospital by eliminating the need for multiple imaging screens. Today, hospitals buy separate systems for imaging displays related to ultrasound, endoscopy and bronchoscopy, and EMRs and ventilators also have their own screens. AR may be able to provide a shared display, reducing the need for multiple monitors.

5. The authors acknowledged AR technology has not developed enough to be deployed immediately. Developers must create hardware that easily fits on a physician's head and assess what types of data are displayed — and where — during surgery. As with most technological innovations, physician buy-in will also pose a challenge.

"There are a variety of technical challenges, but none of them are insurmountable," the authors wrote. "It will take gifted computer scientists and visionary physicians to make augmented reality an actual reality in medicine. But we are excited for the future, where the use of AR in healthcare will be just as commonplace as use of a stethoscope."

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