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Healthcare providers use AR and VR technology to improve surgical outcomes

While the medical industry is still waiting for the Star Trek tricorder, some doctors are apparently already using X-ray goggles.

This is news from New Jersey, where two neurosurgeons have performed successful spine surgeries using FDA-approved AR technology that allows them to “see” a patient’s anatomy during the procedure.

“Augmented reality allows us to enhance what we can see inside the spine with the utmost precision to apply various forms of instrumentation in the least invasive way,” said Roy Vingan, MD, co-founder of New Jersey Brain and Spine (NJBS), in a press release. “It’s a navigation tool that gives us information in the operating room that goes deeper than an X-ray.”

“It’s such a wow moment, like looking through a telescope and seeing the stars,” he added. “Suddenly the world is open to you in a different way.”

(Also read: Is healthcare moving toward a 3D EHR?)

AR and VR (virtual reality) technologies have slowly but surely made inroads into healthcare, offering benefits to both patients and providers. Health systems and hospitals are experimenting with the technology as a decision support tool and giving doctors a new and often much more detailed insight into examination results.

This is especially true for spinal surgeries, where doctors have been using AR and VR for some time.

At NJBS, Vingan and Dr. Patrick Roth, a neurosurgeon and co-founder, use the Augmedics xvision Spine System, which uses a transparent near-eye display headset to overlay the position of surgical instruments over a patient’s CT data. This image is viewed by the surgeon through a headset during surgery.

NJBS surgeons have used the technology in more than 40 surgeries in the past six months, while Augmedics says its technology has been used in treating more than 6,500 patients in 24 states. Nationally, dozens of health systems, including the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and UConn Health, are using the technology in surgeries, mostly since 2019 or 2020.

Proponents say the technology improves minimally invasive surgery by allowing surgeons to more precisely guide their instruments and any implants. This allows for more precise surgery, smaller incisions and better clinical outcomes, including less pain and a shorter recovery time for patients.

It’s also a marketing tool. Along with innovative technologies like surgical robots, healthcare systems and hospitals are using AR/VR features to recruit new surgeons at a time when labor shortages are widespread and it’s difficult to attract top talent.

“We believe one of the strengths of our practice is that surgeons have the flexibility to contextualize, improvise and think outside the box,” Roth said in the release. “We can lean on advances and provide the best care available.”

Eric Wicklund is Associate Content Manager and Senior Editor for Innovation at HealthLeaders.

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