augmented and virtual reality as medical technology | by Gabriel Nyante | June 2022

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As sci-fi movies and mobile games have already given people a glimpse of what virtual and augmented reality is, the concepts are not unfamiliar to people. However, these technologies are not only about fun and games. On the contrary, they have the potential to transform medicine and other critical industries for the better. This article will discuss some of them.

Extended reality, which is an umbrella term for augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technology, has a wide range of uses, from assisting surgeons with surgical procedures to teaching anatomy to students in medicine. Additionally, new apps are being developed as we speak. Keep reading to learn more about the impact of these exciting new innovations.

Role of technology in modern medical science

Technology has always been part of medical science. Even in ancient times, people used mortars to crush herbs and fire to boil them to make medicine. Medical technologies are essentially objects that are applied to the human body in a planned way to counter the effects of disease.

In England, medical technologies have reduced road traffic deaths by a third. Additionally, studies show that AI-based technology can reduce hospital deaths by 20%.

Technology Vs. Technique

Medical technology exists in many forms. For example, artificial organs, antibiotics or radiological imaging are integrated into the object. Meanwhile, surgery or medical record keeping is technology built into the procedure.

It is essential to differentiate between technology and technique. For example, things like taking a pulse or tapping the abdomen are techniques. They are also procedures, but they are directed towards the human senses, not towards the objects.

19th century medical technology: stethoscopes and more

One of the main uses of technology in medical science is the diagnosis of disease and the big innovation came in 1816 with the invention of the stethoscope. Prior to this device, diagnostic evidence was based on history and superficial observation. But stethoscopes provided more direct evidence.

Stethoscopes were simple but very effective devices. It allows the doctor to hear heart and lung sounds. The autopsy evidence had already told them what kind of sound produced the various lesions in the anatomical structures of these organs. The combination of this knowledge and new technology has helped them to better and more definitively diagnose diseases.

After stethoscopes, many other simple medical technologies were introduced in the 19th century, such as the ophthalmoscope, clinical thermometer, and sphygmomanometer. These technologies made doctors more dependent on the direct evidence they found and less on the patient’s story.

20th Century Medical Technology: Imaging and Antibiotics

The technologies that appeared at the beginning of the 20th century were X-rays and the electrocardiograph. These technicians recorded the data of the disease and the doctor analyzed them to establish his diagnosis. As a result, the diagnosis of diseases was no longer a personal act but rather a scientific act.

The mass production of antibiotics, artificial respirators and the further development of intensive care systems, life support systems and dialysis machines are important milestones of this century.

Genetic diseases are one of the major limitations of modern medical science. Currently, advanced medical science is eagerly awaiting genetic technologies that would help us treat diseases at the molecular level.

Another booming area is the integration of virtual reality into medical technology. This opens up new possibilities for doctors and patients to treat the disease. Virtual reality will allow us to overcome another critical limitation of medical technology: the visualization of anatomical structures in real time.

XR Technology: The Stage of Medical Science

XR or Extended Reality is not a small term. It encompasses Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR), and anything else of that nature. They are more or less the same thing – they simulate reality.

AR merges virtual objects and a real live world to deliver a combined experience. MR uses advanced computer graphics and images to blend the real and virtual world. Meanwhile, VR is the true reality simulator, where you can completely immerse yourself in a fantasy world or simulated reality.

Importance of XR Technology

There are two main uses for XR technology. The first is education. About 50% of available technology has found its way into classrooms and universities.

XR technology allows the student to have realistic interactions with virtual objects. This speeds up the learning process. Moreover, it allows them to effectively apply their classroom knowledge in the real world.

Besides education, XR technology is also revolutionizing design and engineering. For example, an architect or an engineer can build a realistic model of his plans in the virtual world. They can then explore it, test it for flaws, make improvements, and when satisfied, they can move forward to finally build it.

How is XR currently used in the medical industry?

XR technology is already being used in the healthcare industry in various ways. Let’s see some of them.

In Surgery

The most significant use of XR in the medical industry has been in the operating room. For example, Sync AR has developed software that combines internal images (from CT scans and X-rays) directly with the operating area visible in reality. As a result, the surgeon gets an x-ray view of this area while performing surgery.

Another example of XR technology in the medical industry is the neurosurgery performed at John Hopkins. Surgeons placed six screws in a patient’s spine using XR technology. After successfully performing this operation, they then used it to remove tumors from the spine of another patient.

XR technology like Accuvein can help nurses find patient veins easily. About 40% of IV injections miss their target on the first stick. And this percentage is much worse in children than in adults. Here, XR technology can reduce these incidents.

Medical training and education

As in other industries, XR technology has also found its use in medical education and training. For example, the Immersive Touch system’s AR training simulator has a proven track record in neurosurgical training.

The simulator combines a head-hand tracking system with a stereoscopic display. And trainees had lower failure rates when performing ventriculostomies and placing thoracic screws after training.

Another example of XR in medical training is the EyeSI AR binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy (BIO) simulator. This simulator projects a virtual retina onto a model head. Ophthalmology residents trained with this system have performed better than traditionally taught students.

For any doctor, a good understanding of anatomy is vital. Augmented reality applications are very effective in teaching this subject to medical students. Because anatomy is about developing concepts about the human body in its three-dimensional reality. And, of course, XR can teach it better than 2D textbooks.

Limitations of XR technology

The biggest limitation of XR technology in the medical field and in general is hardware. XR headsets and other relevant devices are still very bulky and can be uncomfortable when first used. Prolonged use may cause headaches, nausea and eye discomfort.

Also, there isn’t a lot of training material regarding XR apps. And few people have the expertise to teach others how to apply XR technology to real jobs. Finally, the company is warming up to the idea of ​​XR apps. It will therefore take longer before XR technology is widely accepted.

Future use cases for XR in medicine

We can hope to see more advanced uses of XR in the operating room in the future. As a result, surgical procedures will become more precise and take less time. Therefore, the results of this procedure will be better for the patients. Likewise, XR training materials will definitely replace traditional medical education.

Currently, the development of XR contact lenses is ongoing. And it will save doctors the discomfort of working with a bulky headset for long hours. Moreover, as expertise, training content and social acceptance of technology increase, XR will soon revolutionize the medical industry.

Conclusion

In terms of XR technology and medical applications, the possibilities are endless. There are also several promising apps already in the works. The number of applications will increase as technology improves.

XR will eventually become a powerful tool for doctors, ushering in a new era of medical technology.


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