Because scientists are all about identifying, analyzing and solving problems, they are always among the first to harness new technology to improve the health of their patients.With health representing 20% of the U.S. economy and tech over 10%, scale dictates that tiny improvements in either sector have a huge impacts. Slight improvements in training, a slightly better test or tool, or a faster diagnosis, have the potential to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. As a result, we’re finding a lot of early innovation in new virtual and augmented reality technology.
We see seven themes emerging from new VR and AR apps for health: (1) training (2) education (3) visualization (4) psychology (5) Telehealth and telesurgery (6) screen consolidation and (7) physical training, health, and fitness. This article will focus exclusively on the applications of Virtual Reality – fully replacing the world with a realistic digital simulation of patient-specific anatomy and pathology.
Augmented Reality, which puts data in the user’s field of view, like a pilot’s “heads-up display” (HUD), has many compelling applications to offer the medical profession. With tips from sources, we found one AR Health startup, Echopixel, in stealth mode that wants to map CT scans on real patients. Doctors are surrounded by screens all day, but they have to look away from the patient to see them. AR headsets solve this problem while opening up whole new areas for innovation and augmentation. A lot of technological change is going to manifest in health care first.
Justin Barad, the CEO and Founder of Osso VR, is a practicing pediatric orthopaedist. In a previous life, he was a game developer. Barad knows firsthand the challenges orthopedic surgeons face, especially when learning new techniques and devices, and he’s drawn on his background in interactive to create important new tools to train surgeons. “We surgeons operate with a fallacy of transferability, which means we come to believe that because we’re good at one kind of surgery, we will be good at another. The data says we are starting fresh, just like a resident, no matter what our experience with other tools and approaches,” said Dr. Barad. This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to introduce new techniques and devices in clinical medicine. It’s too hard and, in some ways dangerous, for a specialist to learn it by doing it.
Hospital workers, long known for graveyard humor, often joke accident victims and the homeless who require emergency surgeries are “MRBs”, short for “Medical Resident Benefits”. Residents are highly educated and observe many surgeries, but they only operate on one cadaver before doing surgery on a patient. Their results 300% worse than experienced surgeons. “In med school, they say ‘see one, do one, teach one’. It’s a confidence builder, but the truth is you need to do 50 to 100 cases for proficiency,” said Barad.
Osso (short for Open Surgical Simulation Orthopaedics) uses virtual reality to enable surgeons to perform realistic orthopedic surgery, replacing an old, complicated, expensive manual simulation created by the aptly named Sawbones Corp. Sawbones provides a realistic molded plastic model of the bone for orthopedic training and practice. The models are expensive and can only be used once. Much of Osso VR’s business comes from medical device manufacturers, who now have a way to show surgeons the benefit of the new implants and techniques while training them in their use. Studies show surgeons who train with Osso’s system achieve test results twice as good as good as those trained using current methods.
Image Credit: Osso VR