First of all, what is an XR? Well, it does not refer to a specific technology but is a package of all realities like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed or Merged Reality (MR). Hence, AR, VR, and MR are referred to as its three pillars. According to the eXtended reality definitions, it is the technologically powered interaction between humans and machines incorporated by real and virtual environments.
Often referred to as “cross” reality or eXtended reality, when XR is fused with the medical field, it is bound to create innovative advancements. The main reason to use XR is to reduce the distance barriers. Apart from that, it also helps users to learn and observe details and information from a new reality which is far more superior than they can perceive from their naked senses.
Advantages of XR
XR is an advancing technology that has the capability to support its users unimaginably. The inclusion of this technology has eliminated the distance between one another. Some of its merits are:
1) Effective detailed observation
With the availability of a scenario in a digital form, one can constantly observe the situation over and over again with detailed information from all the possible different points of view. This enables people to have a more broad idea of the situation and its causes and effects.
2) Experience a new environment without moving
With the availability of the data on a particular scenario, one can upload the information and experience the scenario as per the requirement of the situation without even having to go to the actual place of the incident. This feature helps the user to access the environment remotely.
3) Safe training environment
This is one of the best features of this technology. As it has the ability to create a virtual environment, trainees and students can operate this technology to perform various practical experiments without having to face the consequences if anything goes wrong. This feature will help all the newbies to have enough real-world practice before having to deal with their real clients. This will help them practice carefree and learn necessary skills without any pressure.
4)Eliminate distance barrier
The reduction of distance issue has made this technology a very promising innovation. The time and energy required to cover a certain distance to perform any task have been the reason for many failures in the past. Now, not anymore. With this new XR technology, every person’s needs will be fulfilled without having to be physically present at the same location.
Why XR in the medical field?
XR covers areas that are extensions beyond human vision and other senses, hence it is ideal for medical applications. Such things as UV, IR, X-ray, Ultrasound, CT, OCT, MRI, etc. can be much more informative in VR and AR when the results are stereoscopic and/or volumetric.
Medical imaging has benefited a lot from XR and modern MRI and scan are making the most use of XR technology. The representation of the 3D model instead of traditional 2D images has effectively increased the diagnosis processes.
The reason to include XR in medication is to simply help nurses and doctors to operate their tasks with ease. It has been helpful in a lot of the medical fields but has shown a promising advancement in the radiology section. The key ways it can change radiology and the general medical sector in the near future are:
1) Improve radiology training
One of the major importance of AR and VR in medical imaging is to provide training equipment and the environment. This virtual training is believed to be more efficient than traditional learning techniques.
XR provides a higher level of active learner participation and increases social, environmental, and personal presence within the learning activity. The inclusion of AR has been helping trainees to conceptualize complex anatomy by providing them with 3D objects of existing DICOM images. Moreover, the use of VR has been familiarizing trainees to respond in certain situations such as contrast agent reactions. This is not just limited to trainees but can also be useful for training residents, fellows, and attending radiologists.
Apart from practical knowledge, this technology can also drastically improve the way lecturers teach their students in the classrooms as well. This high-end technology can allow students to view interventional procedure suites using stereoscopic viewers attached to their personal smartphones. The lecturer can also provide students with a certain scenario and ask them about their response in managing the case and ask questions about diagnosis, indications, contraindications, type of equipment, and type of sedation. Students can scan a Quick Response (QR) code and transport it to a virtual interventional radiology suite, where they choose equipment that can be used for the given scenario.
2) Help colleagues communicate
Surgical tasks require complex planning and execution which is achieved through a comprehensive understanding of anatomic relationships. Some of the commercial simulators are made available in the market and are used by beginner surgeons.
A three-dimensional learning environment such as virtual reality (VR), is very essential for surgeons to plan and execute complex surgical procedures as it provides the possibility to expand spatial representation. Apart from this, surgeons can also share the AR images to one another. This provides them with a medium to discuss a particular topic or case without having to be in the same place. This will not only help them easily communicate with one another but also save a lot of valuable time for both theirs and their patients.
3) Improve patient-doctor communication
The use of AR and VR will allow doctors to effectively and comprehensively explain the patients about their condition. This allows doctors to provide patients with illustrations and representation of their actual condition to educate them as much as possible. Doctors have been allowing patients to explore 360-degree recordings of their interventional radiology suites using VR applications.
Patients can also browse and adjust to the procedure suites and recovery rooms using stereoscopic viewers attached to their smartphones. Not only this, but patients can also view the simulation of the procedure giving them knowledge of each step of the procedure that they are about to go through.
To offer additional potential for more patient awareness and education, radiologists have been adapting to the technology of AR and VR.
4) Assist with interventional radiology procedure
AR can help in great measures to guide needles, wires, and catheters to the targeted area while performing interventional radiology procedures. Overlapping diagnostic images of a particular injury directly onto the patient is one of the interesting ways of using AR technology. By doing so, the surgeon or doctor can envision the fused anatomy and easily proceed by targeting the injury whilst standing next to the patient. Apart from these, AR has been useful in open surgery, neurosurgery, and tracheostomy tube placement as it provides intraoperative fusion images.
XR in medical training and education
XR has been helping both the lectures and learners in the medical field by providing a better representation of the anatomical and surgical procedures. It has made it easier for the lecturers to illustrate the subject matter along with the possible scenarios they might have to undergo. At the same time, XR has provided software and virtual labs that help them grab the situation and learning matter more efficiently.
There are two examples of XR in Medical training and education: UCSF and Eyesim.
1) UCSF — Virtual Reality Lab
UCSF is a virtual reality lab that offers students a hands-on training experience with cadavers and textbook learning. This helps students to better understand the human anatomy and observe how all the bones, muscles, nerves and organs are packed together. Being able to perform the experiments along with the lectures allows students to better understand and grab the information than the traditional way of just textbook learning. Apart from this, this lab also helps students to perform experiments and move around the organs of the body without having to bring in an actual body.
Eyesim is a virtual reality software that focuses on helping students to learn the structure of the eyes. This software represents the complex structures of eyes realistically and accurately so that students have no difficulty understanding the mechanism undergoing behind and inside the eyeballs. It makes students easier to construct a comparable model in their heads from just the two-dimensional diagrams and illustrations in the books. And as with the UCSF, the student can perform hands-on experiments without having to bring in real patients or cadavers.
This field needs a lot of practical knowledge along with theories and it can be very difficult for newbies to get their hands on an actual patient without proper practice beforehand. Admittedly, the first few actual practices can be hectic for both the doctors and the patients. Hence these technologies can help doctors to practice and gain their confidence to perform real surgeries in their careers.
XR in remote surgery
Remote surgery is the advanced telecommunicating for surgeons where they can perform surgery even if they are not physically present in the same room as their patient. XRs are used in remote surgeries where a robotic surgical system with one or more arms performs the operation on the patient using instructions of the surgeon from far away. One such software is Proxima.
Proximie is software that enables doctors or surgeons to communicate and consult with one another in order to save time and unnecessary travel as well as increase efficiency in their work. Simply put, it is a platform that allows you to collaborate with your colleagues from across the world.
Some examples of application for XR in surgeries
There has been some application of XR in the surgical field by some doctors. Software like Osso VR and Immersive Touch are some of the examples of the application of XR in surgical training and procedures.
1) Osso VR
Osso VR is an award-winning virtual reality surgical training and assessment platform. This platform has been designed for surgeons, sales teams, and hospital staff. It speeds up the learning curve for the surgeons. This software provides an immersive training environment that contains precise procedures and devices that need to be performed by accurate hand-based interactions. Due to this collaborative training in Osso VR, the success rate of the surgery, performed with the hands-on training team regardless of the physical location, is expected to further increase in the future.
2) Immersive Touch
Immersive Touch is a medical virtual reality solution. This software provides an immersive view, that is, displays a patient’s CT, CBCT, 3D angiography, and MRI scans in a virtual reality view. This provides a unique and unobstructed digital illustration of the patient’s internal structure. This software can also be used for better and innovative surgical planning, training, and education. It allows the surgeons to practice their surgeries by uploading the patient’s scans and information in a realistic virtual environment.
The involvement of a mix of AR, VR, and MR in the medical field is going to be a massive hit. The future of doctors, surgeons, nurses, and patients will face a lot of ease in terms of learning, explaining, demonstrating, and understanding this complex field of human anatomy and surgical procedures. Moreover, this technology also has the power to effortlessly represent the effects of diseases, certain chemicals, and injuries in the human body by comparing the affected digital 3D human body with a healthy digital 3D human body.
The ability to perform remote surgery has been predicted to drastically decrease the rate of operation failure due to the unavailability of the doctors at the location and/or late arrival of the doctors for the surgery. Additionally, the training approach will also benefit the newbie doctors a lot providing them with the high-end technology that is capable of creating virtual objects as well as scenarios to directly perform their practical experiments and procedures on. This is going to produce more experienced and confident surgeons in the future. In conclusion, this innovative fusion of XR in the medical sector will result in a huge development and success rate in the field.