Telesurgery: AR And VR Save Money And Lives

Telesurgery: AR And VR Save Money And Lives
July 17, 2017

Telesurgery, or operating on a patient using a robot hundreds of kilometres away, could be the future of healthcare, say experts.


At Microsoft's annual Inspire conference in Washington DC this week, some of these technological advances in healthcare were demonstrated to more than 17,000 attendees.


The technology behind long-distance operations and surgery originally began with spaceflight when organisations such as Nasa began figuring out how they might be able to treat a person in a space craft.


The concept has continued to evolve over the years and according to Microsoft, telesurgery is now at a stage where it is being used more widely.


The US Department of Defence is already testing out what it calls Trauma Pods, using robots to provide temporary medical care for soldiers on the battlefront before they can get to a doctor or medic.


Allowing more people to access world-leading health care and surgery without having to travel is just the start of the evolutions happening in the health care sector, according to Microsoft general manager of health Neil Jordan.


"Certain areas of the health industry are really starting to use things like augmented reality (AR) and some of the newest technology to improve the way they operate," Jordan said.


"So HoloLens for example which is AR and means you can still see what's going on around you when you're using it, is being used in lots of interesting applications already - for example in teaching medical students."


Jordan highlighted Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in the US as one such example.


The university uses HoloLens to help teach surgery and anatomy by creating a 3D image either on a cadaver, a dummy or in free space to give students a more in-depth view of complex body systems or surgical procedures.


"We're also starting to see the use of HoloLens for things like assisted placements of stents so when you're doing laparoscopic surgery you can actually map that onto the human body as you go in, and get a much clearer idea of where the stent is in relation to the rest of the body," Jordan said.


"It hasn't gone through FDA approval yet but we're seeing these kinds of examples a lot more."


It's not just in performing surgery that the HoloLens can be used, with companies such as medical equipment manufacturer Stryker Corporation using the AR devices to help plan operating rooms - a service it was demoing at Microsoft Inspire this week.


Potential customers could walk into an empty operating theatre or room, and place 3D versions of the equipment needed, then walk around the room moving the equipment to figure out the best composition.


"It's an expensive thing to get wrong and being able to walk around and get a feel for how a room will work and where best to put things before locking it in, is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do," said a Stryker spokesperson.


As well as saving money, advances in technology are also helping to save lives. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas is home to some of the sickest children in the world Jordan said - many of whom have congenital heart diseases.


Despite having some of the best surgeons in the world, the previous standard of care for children returning home after surgery was to provide parents with a ring binder, a pulse oximeter and a weight scale, and to have a weekly check-up with the hospital.


According to Jordan, this meant the hospital wasn't catching the complications associated soon enough.


"So now they send them home with a Surface computer and an application called Champ which allows them to notate various things about the child's progress on a daily basis and every day they take a video of the baby in the same place at the same time and it's uploaded to the cloud," Jordan said.


"AI is used across it to do basic understanding of whether this is normal or abnormal and they're catching complications way earlier. The more people that go through it, the better the system gets at knowing what is normal or not and the better the outcomes we are seeing."


Machine learning systems are also being used to verify healthcare invoices and reduce accidental or fraudulent billing requests - a system Jordan said was already saving the healthcare industry millions.

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