Augmented Reality For Telehealth
Augmented reality (AR)—a set of technologies that integrates digital 3D content into a person’s visual field and allows them to interact with that content—is being used for a wide range of health applications, from training and education to neurodiagnostics and surgical navigation.
There is excitement around enhancing telehealth with AR. A recent market report (paywall) covering AR in healthcare estimates that there will be more than 2 million patients and healthcare workers utilizing this technology by 2025, and there are a growing number of peer-reviewed publications that describe AR-enabled telehealth for purposes such as home-based telerehabilitation. However, these use cases are limited and generally still in the early design and pilot testing phases.
AR-Enabled Remote Assistance For Surgical Procedures
One segment of the telehealth market in which AR technology could make a significant impact is remote assistance (remote assist) for surgery. With AR-enabled remote assist, surgeons can receive real-time intraoperative guidance from other physicians, surgical specialists or medical device/technology experts. Such guidance can be critical when a surgeon is presented with a complex procedure and may benefit from additional technical skills or expertise or during procedures that involve devices or implants that necessitate input from an industry representative. If a procedure is unplanned and time-sensitive, it may not be feasible for a remote expert to travel to the site of the operation or to transport the patient to another facility. Remote assist capabilities can alleviate these constraints, particularly in rural settings, where surgical resources might be limited.
How Does AR-Enabled Remote Assist Work?
A surgeon operating on a patient can use an AR-enabled headset, combined with live-streamed video that is supported by high-definition cameras. This allows a remote expert to see what is happening from the surgeon’s point of view (i.e., “see what I see”). With an AR-enabled headset, the remote expert can virtually label, pin and draw directly onto the patient’s anatomy to better guide the surgeon in real time. While the remote expert views the surgery on a monitor, the surgeon’s use of the AR-enabled headset allows the remote expert to see 3D renderings of a patient’s anatomy and to apply markings onto those 3D models. Even if the surgeon moves around the operating room, the markings for details such as an incision point or device placement remain anchored in place for the surgeon.
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