New system brings augmented reality to the operating theater

surgery-mentorEarlier this year I attended a healthcare innovation event and got chatting to a chap from a company called Medical Realities.  They were developing virtual reality training products for surgeons that allow you to be ‘in the room’ as surgeons conduct their operations.

Whilst the product was undoubtedly clever, a limitation was the lack of interaction.  No such concerns exist for a telementoring platform developed by researchers at Purdue University and Indiana University School of Medicine.

Their system allows the surgeon performing the operation to receive help and guidance from a more experienced peer using telecommunications equipment.  Whilst such services are not that new, the Purdue team believe their system has distinct advantages.

“Telementoring is widely used, but it’s still primitive in that it has not kept pace with advances in information technology and computer graphics,” they say. “It is usually done with a telestrator displaying a video of the surgery overlaid with graphical annotations, which requires the surgeon to look away from the operating table while receiving mentoring advice.”

Telementoring in the operating theater

Their system, called the System for Telementoring with Augmented Reality (STAR), was documented in a recent study and harnesses a range of technologies to provide surgeons with a transparent display, and several sensors to improve the communication between mentor and mentee.

“It is a step toward overcoming current limitations in telementoring by using so-called augmented reality to enhance the sense of ‘co-presence,’ “ they say.

STAR integrates the annotations and illustrations provided by the mentor directly into the field of view of the surgeon, thus removing any need to glance away from the operation.

“The surgeon sees the operating field, the instruments, and their hands as if the display were not there, yet the operating field is enhanced with the mentor’s graphical annotations,” the team say.

STAR in the field

The study, outlined in the paper, put the system through its paces in a military medical context.  This extreme environment was chosen due to the limited resources such facilities often are faced with.

“STAR may be useful in providing instructional simulations to support doctors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in traumatic care on the battlefield,” the researchers say.

The surgeons were required to perform typical surgical procedures, including cricothyrotomy and laparotomy operations, and the initial feedback suggests it has promise when set against existing systems.

“The study provides a preliminary indication that the system allows trainees to follow some mentor instructions more accurately than existing telementoring systems,” the team conclude. “Data suggest the system can provide meaningful improvements to the accuracy of surgical tasks.”

It’s certainly an interesting and innovative approach.  Check out the video below to see the STAR system in action.

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