During a crisis like a natural disaster or a war zone, doctors can be in short supply. A doc with the necessary skills to help in a given case may be hundreds or thousands of miles away. So researchers at Purdue have developed a new way to get around this problem: an augmented reality (AR) system that could help on-the-ground doctors get expert advice.
“The most critical challenge is to provide surgical expertise into the battlefield when it is most required,” says Juan Wachs, a professor of engineering at Purdue who led the project team, in a press statement. “Even without having highly experienced medical leaders physically co-located in the field, with this technology we can help minimize the number of casualties while maximizing treatment at the point of injury.”
Augmented reality has the potential to play a big role in medicine. With the ability to remotely view a patient, doctors could be able to supply a level of expertise that might be missing in the field. Beyond natural disaster sites, an AR system for doctors might also work in some rural areas. And beyond simple triage, an AR system could offer a form of learning for medics and doctors who don’t have access to other supplies.
“There is an unmet need for technology that connects healthcare mentees in rural areas with experienced mentors,” says Edgar Rojas Muñoz, a doctoral student in industrial engineering who worked on the project. “The current use of a telestrator in these situations is inefficient because they require the mentee to focus on a separate screen, fail to show upcoming steps and give the mentor an incomplete picture of the ongoing procedure.”
The system uses a transparent headset screen display that allows the medic/mentee to see the patient in front of them along with real-time on-screen feedback from the doctor/mentor. All the while, Purdue’s computer vision algorithms track the virtual notes and marks occurring on the patient’s body as surgery is performed.
In addition, a drone-operated camera can hover overhead to give the remote viewing doctor another angle from which to examine the patient. The drone will take a wide view, allowing the remote doctor to understand the physical surroundings in which the patient finds themselves. It will also provide image stabilization in case things are tumultuous.
“Our technology allows trainees to remain focused on the surgical procedure and reduces the potential for errors during surgery,” Muñoz says.
Supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, the AR system has completed one round of clinical evaluation and will soon go through another one. From there, it will be put through a simulated battlefield in a military installation in Virginia. Other branches of the government are also exploring the many potential uses of AR. NASA, for example, is letting people stand on other planets.
Originally posted on: Popular Mechanics