Augmented Reality Could Change Health Care—Or Be a Faddish Dud

The patient lies on the exam table, as the surgeon gets ready. She’s wearing pastel pink scrubs, holding an ultrasound device, and wearing glasses that look like something out of RoboCop—the ’80s version, not the 2014 remake.

The surgeon presses the ultrasound device to the patient’s chest, examining his heart. The ultrasound image appears on a laptop screen behind her, but she never turns her head, because she can see the lub-dub, lub-dub of the beating heart right in front of her eyes.

Ok, so the scenario is fake—a demonstration—but the technology, albeit a prototype, is real. Engineers at the University of Maryland’s “Augmentarium,” a virtual and augmented reality research lab on its College Park campus, designed the tool in concert with doctors from the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Shock Trauma Center. The doctors and researchers building this tool—a way to project images or vital information right where a doctor needs it—believe that it will make surgery safer, patients happier, and medical students better.

But there are a number of questions that must be answered before you’ll see your own doctor wearing an augmented reality headset.

Augmented reality refers to any technology that overlays computer-generated images onto images of the real world. Google Glass is an example of an augmented reality technology. So is the mobile game Pokémon Go.

By Rachel Kaufman | Smithsonian

Illustration Credit: University of Maryland

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