The case was complicated: Shoulder arthroplasty, to deal with an advanced case of arthritis affecting the patient’s glenoid — the ball part of the ball-and-socket joint in the shoulder. To handle the case most effectively, the surgeon wanted assistance from the best. But the best was physically half a world away. What to do?
From his operating theater in France, orthopedic surgeon Thomas Gregory slipped on a Microsoft Hololens 2 headset and dialed up three colleagues in Brazil, Belgium, and South Africa. They walked through holograms of the patient and collectively talked through the surgery; peering along as Gregory opened the patient’s shoulder joint, Stephen Roche, Bruno Gobbato, and Jean Florin Ciornohac suggested different clamps and alternate pathways and observed Gregory’s technique. Together, they turned a bit of surgery into a technology showcase.
This surgery wasn’t some science fiction film, however, nor was it the dream of a PR spinmaster. It actually took place just a few weeks ago, in Avicenne AP-HP Hospital in Bobigny, France — and it’s only the beginning.
Today: AR surgery is already here
“Hololens is like a smartphone for surgery, it’s the performance and information tool that moves surgery into a new era,” Gregory explained, during a panel he organized with Microsoft to spread the word about the power of mixed reality for medicine. Much of what a surgeon does involves mental gymnastics, he said: Keeping mental pictures of 2D charts and X-rays while walking through steps in one’s head and watching out for red flags.
Augmented reality can take some of the burden out of that — it’s more than just a fun game for Pokemon fans, in other words. AR can very effectively help doctors plan out a procedure and execute it as efficiently as possible.
“It’s almost a GPS for the surgeon,” said Tom McGuiness, executive vice president of healthcare for Microsoft. Igor Sauer, head of experimental surgery at Charité Hospital in Germany, is another enthusiastic supporter of the tech. A traditional surgeon keeps 3D images in her head, and compares them mentally to the real person lying in front of her, Sauer explained. That doctor has a clear need for image guidance, at the same time that she needs an unobstructed view of the work before her. AR can offer exactly that — not tomorrow or next year but right now.
Image Credit: Microsoft