If you are a medical student, chances are your days are filled with reams of printed data explaining the fundamentals of surgery procedures or human anatomy and reliance on imagination or visualization skills to get the perfect understanding. However, what if instead of learning from a simple graphic of the human brain, students could actually see a 3-D form of the human brain that literally shows how the brain processes information and even walk around it to see bits of data flowing through the brain? This incredible transformation in the way students are educated is driven by Augmented Reality (AR), which is rapidly becoming the preferred method of research, training and education. While AR has been subject to a great amount of initial inhibitions in terms of its usability, app deployment and hardware, 2016 has seen it come to the forefront and become a mainstream technology. The global success of Pokémon Go underscores this fact. The level of interactivity that AR provides medical students and professionals in understanding the workings of the human body by superimposing digital information onto human skeletons, textbook graphics and diagrams is unrivalled. Recognizing the possibilities of this trend to revolutionize the industry has medical institutes across the world swiftly moving towards upgrading their training courses, teaching pedagogies and study materials to AR-powered resources.
Augmented Reality in Today’s Operating Rooms Traditional vs. AR Learning: An Overview
Medical students, prior to internships, learn from live examples only during dissection sessions or occasional patient visits, which often limits real-life experience and learning. AR helps close the gap between theoretical information and the real world by creating the biggest impact in learning the basics of human anatomy. A simple textbook with static images is no match to 3-D models in action that allow students to see the way the heart, lungs or diaphragm moves and sounds. For students, AR provides an X-ray vision that helps them pierce through the skin and see the internal workings of the body. This makes learning more effective and efficient.
AR-powered training methods also deliver precision. For example, students can learn from an accurate reconstruction of surgery procedures and 3-D models offering the virtual experience of being in an actual operation room where a live surgery is in progress. This makes them aware of the intricacies of achieving the highest level of medical precision.
Additional benefits AR-based training offers include better understanding of spatial relationships and concepts, easy understanding of complex theories, higher retention of information and a shortened learning curve.
The Future of Medical Imaging and Minimally Invasive Treatment Procedures
AR-based healthcare training has received a further boost due to the continuous enhancements in medical learning apps and the availability of better HMDs (head-mounted displays) such as Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens. This is gradually changing the way in which minimally invasive surgeries such as laparoscopic procedures are conducted. In a typical endoscopy, a camera is placed under the patient’s skin to display images and critical parameters on many different monitors making it difficult for the surgeon to focus during the surgery. With AR-powered HMDs, these images can be projected directly on the patient’s body, reducing the risk and making it easier for doctors as well as students to diagnose the exact ailments. Laparoscopic surgery and procedures are particularly difficult for students to learn and gain accuracy. AR apps for mobile devices and smart glasses ensure that students can learn these complex processes in an efficient and interactive way.
Not just students, but even practicing doctors and medical staff are increasingly using AR during treatment procedures. Often patients are unable to describe their symptoms accurately, thereby making it harder for the doctors to provide treatment. With AR apps, doctors can simulate the impact of specific conditions, thereby helping patients in better understanding their symptoms and their actual medical state. While administering IV injections and fluids, nurses often struggle to find the right vein with almost 40% missing the vein in the first attempt. New AR-powered scanners can project the vein on top of the skin, making it easy for the nurses to administer IV medicines.
With more and more sophisticated AR healthcare apps being developed almost every day, medical students and professionals can look forward to accessing improved training techniques providing enhanced healthcare facilities and eventually saving more lives.
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