Tablets and smartphones have recently found a wide range of uses in the healthcare industry, from building image databases for doctors to helping patients better understand their surgical procedures. Taking these mobile technologies one step further, we look at an application that takes augmented reality into the operating room to assist doctors with complex procedures. Imagine if at the touch of a button, your surgeon could map your internal organs and pinpoint the correct blood vessel or location of a tumor, rather than having to rely on memory or constantly refer to images and charts.
A new iPad app from the Fraunhofer Institute for Medical Image Computing MEVIS in Germany is using augmented reality technology to help surgeons remove liver tumors without damaging critical vessels within the organ. Before the surgery takes place, a CT scan is performed on the patient, allowing an accompanying software to identify and image the pathways of blood vessels. This information is then transferred to an iPad, which can be used during the surgery.
The surgeon can navigate the imaged liver to see where the vessels are, and if the camera is turned on and pointed at the exposed liver the app automatically superimposes the vessel structure of the organ onto the live picture. Liver surgery is more than a little dangerous – with so many blood vessels, one wrong cut can lead to disaster. When using augmented reality to pinpoint exactly where the surgeon needs to focus, much of the painstaking identification or guesswork is removed from the procedure.
The challenge with complex operations is that a large amount of data must be efficiently reduced so that the surgeon is always supplied with the most recent and important information. Tablet computers such as the iPad are a compact and intuitive way to allow doctors to reference this real-time data quickly and easily. Looking ahead, teams at MEVIS are working to develop navigation systems similar to those found in cars, to project data directly on the patient, and guide surgeons every step of the way. While doctors will still need to undergo rigorous training to hone their skills, technologies like this one can help eliminate much of the potential human error. This may just be the start, and the future certainly holds much more for interesting innovations using tablets and smartphones in the medical world.
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