Let’s start at the beginning. The internal workings of the body have fascinated us since before the time of Leonardo da Vinci. And up until today, most medical schools have relied on books, models and, just like Leonardo, the dissection of cadavers to teach anatomy and surgical procedures to tomorrow’s doctors. But that has suddenly changed.
“Our way of visualizing the body in medicine has historically been as a two-dimensional abstraction. Now through mixed reality, we can view it in three dimensions and that is pretty transformative,” Dr. Kos says. Mixed reality is so transformative that clinicians – who are normally conservative in the uptake of new technologies – are “leaping at it”.
Institutions like Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in the United States and the University of Sydney in Australia are using Microsoft HoloLens to instruct their students. Donning headsets, they can “see” and study the anatomical complexities as if from the inside of the body. Three-dimensional tutorials, projected across a visor, graphically show how the heart pumps, how the nervous system functions, how bones and muscles interact, as well as the layout of vital organs. Students can walk around and even through the projected images to get intimately acquainted with the subject.
Similarly, global training and education company, CAE Healthcare, is aiming to improve patient safety by getting its students to use HoloLens to simulate and practice medical procedures. Its President Dr. Robert Amyot says healthcare providers are at their “most dangerous” when they are still on a “learning curve”. But now that has completely changed due to HoloLens. Through repeated and 3-D simulations, students can practice varied scenarios, make mistakes, and try things before treating real patients.
Meanwhile, the Hololens – which is an advanced computer in its own right – has also become an unrivaled tool for surgeons planning intricate operations, which have little or no room for error. This is how it works: A patient is scanned by a CT or MRI machine. The resulting two-dimensional images are then presented in 3-D within a HoloLens headset. With these a doctor can determine exactly what needs to be done and how.
This is happening right now in Norway’s capital, Oslo, by a team of specialists renowned for correcting congenital defects in the tiny hearts of infants. Until recently, they had their own hi-tech way of planning such intricate surgeries: They used scans and a 3-D printer to create physical models of each heart. But now, the precise interactive 3-D imagery within the Hololens has made that once cutting-edge solution redundant after just a few short years.
Dr. Kos believes mixed reality will revolutionize how surgeons tackle a wide range of delicate operations, resulting in better success rates and speedier patient recovery times. “Using HoloLens means you can do surgery with no surprises. You can plan carefully ahead of time. No one’s anatomy is the same as another’s. So, you have got to know what you are in for.”