Why Dundee is transforming digital healthcare through Augmented Reality

 

  • The digital healthcare industry is undergoing an astonishing transformation driven by technological advancements, prototyping and app development, particularly when it comes to Augmented Reality
  • The benefits of deploying an Augmented Reality initiative for healthcare companies are enormous, with endless potential and ability to create positive wellbeing and healthcare outcomes for patients
  • Dundee is now playing it’s own unique role in this incredible transformation, enabling new technological advancements in AR to be brought to market in the fastest possible timescale

The medical sector has come a long way from ancient times in Egypt, when over 3500 years ago surgeons would perform invasive surgeries on patients. In the last two years, Nasa partnered with an American medical company called Virtual Incision and developed technology that enables a robot to be placed inside a patient’s body, so that it can be controlled remotely by a surgeon. Fast forward to today and advancements in digital healthcare are evolving at lightning pace and Augmented Reality technology development sits directly at the heart of this evolution. What’s more, Dundee is playing it’s own unique role in the global digital healthcare transformation. Here at Mozenix, we’ve teamed up with Rodney Mountain, ENT surgeon and lead for Healthcare “Design and Innovation” at Ninewells in Dundee to learn more about some of the amazing work being carried out. We recently explored the key AR facts your business needs to know, what ARKit means for brands and the value of AR in Scotland’s circular economy. Today we’re exploring why Dundee is rocking the world of digital healthcare with Augmented Reality (AR).

Benefits of Augmented Reality in digital healthcare
When it comes to the deployment of AR technologies in healthcare, there are a number of distinct advantages for patients in terms of the quality of treatment they can receive. In the context of minimally invasive surgery (this involves making an incision in the patient’s skin and inserting a medical instrument), AR can be used to reduce associated risk factors by displaying relevant information and guidance for the surgeon to follow. Historically these types of procedures would require the use of video monitors within the operating theatre in order to display the patient’s vital statistics. Surgical images would be relayed on the monitor via an endoscopic camera and with thanks to advancements in AR technology, surgeons can now remain focused on the task at hand using an AR driven heads up display (HUD). These types of innovations can dramatically reduce the number of errors that are made during the surgical process. Through the use of AR and HUD’s in a surgical context, surgeons can stay focused on the patient and reduce the need for multi-tasking. But AR technology in digital healthcare goes way beyond the operating theatre. AR is also facilitating huge innovations in digital healthcare from a training and education perspective.

In terms of providing effective treatment and prevention advice, patient education is absolutely critical. AR apps and prototypes can be developed in order to better illustrate the potential impact of specific diseases. Studies have also demonstrated that AR apps can be used to transmit information in a more effective manner by providing a multi-sensory experience that includes the use of spatial sound and audio to create a more immersive experience (see our recent article on how to develop an AR app for Microsoft Hololens). Not only can these AR applications be used to better educate patients, but they can also be used to educate family members and carers. Using AR app technology, family members and carers can learn about the pathology and ramifications of specific illnesses which means their contribution to the wellbeing of the family member in question is greater than ever before.

There are already a range of innovations globally which are dramatically influencing the way in which unpleasant and painful procedures are conducted. Taking blood from patients is just one example of how AR is redefining the healthcare landscape in terms of making processes simpler and more efficient. The Accuvein AR app is already widely used by medical professionals as a handheld scanner that helps to illuminate the veins on a patient’s skin. This enables doctors and nurses to locate veins with a greater degree of accuracy prior to inserting a needle. The AR technology required within such an application is relatively straightforward yet presents immense benefits to the medical industry and locating patients veins is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be achieved in the next 3 to 5 years.

Augmented Reality apps are also being used to enhance the management of patients aftercare. When patients leave the hospital having undergone treatment, there may be specific aftercare procedures that need to be carefully followed in order to eradicate or better manage a specific health related issue. Specifically for older people, keeping track of medication consumption and timings can be a real problem. AR apps can be used to help patients visualise when to take specific medications and control quantity measurements. These AR apps act as virtual healthcare assistants and can also be used to encourage patients to eat better and exercise more.

Augmented Reality diagnostic and treatment applications
We’ve already highlighted the fact that the approach to minimally invasive surgeries can be dramatically enhanced using simple AR apps. However the same can also be said for complex surgical procedures and this is where AR development work in Dundee, and Scotland as a whole, has a pivotal role to play. AR technology can actually help to save lives during complex surgical procedures by enabling surgeons to access critical information in the shortest possible timescale, without the need to shift their attention away from the patient during surgery. Using AR technology, the patient’s vital statistics can be visualised directly in the surgeon’s eye-line as they perform an operation. AR technology can also be used to enhance the surgeon’s field of view by overlaying an enlarged version of vital organs in 3D as complex surgical procedures are being conducted. As AR hardware innovations such as the Microsoft Hololens become available on a commercial basis, new technologies are fundamentally altering the way in which doctors learn about and understand the human anatomy. Not only that, but patients can actually be diagnosed faster and in a more effective manner by overlaying CT scans and imagery onto a patient’s body. This technology is almost (but not quite) akin to using X-Ray vision in the context of surgical procedures and diagnostics. By providing more accurate data in a visual context, all in real-time, AR is dramatically transforming the entire digital healthcare landscape.

Dundee’s role in the Augmented Reality and digital healthcare revolution
Augmented Reality prototypes and apps have the potential to be amongst some of the most compelling technologies in the world today. The potential for AR deployment within digital healthcare is absolutely vast. By leveraging the capabilities of AR, clinicians and patients alike can make better decisions, faster, which in turn leads to an enhanced quality of life and better care. With this in mind, it’s phenomenal to see some of the AR development work that’s happening in Dundee right now.

Medtronic is a global medical device company currently working in collaboration with the University of Dundee to develop new AR learning based tools for healthcare. The company started out working with 50 students to design and develop new medical software and teaching tools for the Microsoft Hololens platform. For the uninitiated, the Hololens is the first completely self-contained holographic HUD, which enables users to interact with 3D holograms in a mixed reality context. Having completed a three month project, seven of the students have now been offered positions within Medtronic.

The core goal of the project is to design and develop highly innovative Augmented Reality apps for use in medical education and training and to fully leverage the capabilities of the Hololens as a training tool. Medtronic were attracted to working in Dundee given the active, fertile and creative minds available in the city who are incredibly comfortable and adept when it comes to developing cutting edge new technological innovations. Enabling students to work directly in conjunction with a global medical device company such as Medtronic has led to some fascinating outcomes in terms of how AR technology can be deployed in a medical training environment. The output of the project has been so successful that one of the AR prototypes being developed is set to be unveiled and demoed at the European ENT (ear, nose, throat) congress in October. It’s clear that Medtronic is excited by the potential of AR to deliver an educational app for use in anatomy and ENT surgery and that the app will be aimed at trainee healthcare professionals. It’s thought that Medtronic will commission a similar initiative in Dundee in 2018.

It’s phenomenal to see Dundee developing cutting edge technology and delivering key innovations through AR that have the capacity to improve end user patient well-being. Dundee has already carved out a significant reputation as a great city for developing games, consistently punching well above its weight over the past 20 years. It’s great to see that Dundee is now at the forefront of innovations in Augmented Reality app development and prototyping, specifically in relation to digital healthcare. The Mozenix team were fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Rodney Mountain (ENT surgeon and lead for healthcare design and innovation) who kindly demonstrated some of the existing technologies that are used for training and education purposes. Mr Mountain was also kind enough to give us his personal view on the role of Augmented Reality within the digital healthcare sector and be interviewed on video.

Conclusion
The medical sector has come a long way when it comes to technological innovation drivers and advancements, particularly when it comes to Augmented Reality. New breakthroughs are now occurring at lightning pace and Dundee is now playing it’s own role in this incredible transformation. It’s incredible to see some of the work that’s being conducted in order to improve health and care outcomes for patients with chronic illnesses. If you’re a healthcare provider thinking about the benefits of Augmented Reality prototyping and app development, we’d love to talk, contact Mozenix today to kick-start the conversation.