Redefining healthcare with mixed reality solutions

Published Dec 21, 2021


By Johannes Kanis

Global events of the past two years have highlighted how important it is for healthcare to remain innovative and embrace new ways of enhancing service delivery and providing critical care. This is where mixed reality has moved beyond science fiction into a practical reality. Today, it is empowering providers, payors, and health science experts to re-imagine healthcare by accelerating diagnoses and reducing time-to-care, enabling personalisation, and improving outcomes.

Mixed reality solutions, such as the Microsoft HoloLens 2, can help the sector empower care teams, enhance the patient experience, and re-imagine healthcare.

Multidisciplinary care teams that encompass specialised clinicians, clinical staff, and healthcare administrators often span multiple hospitals or locations. This adds time, cost, and complexity to patient care. Using real-time spatial information, care teams can collaborate remotely and conduct virtual patient consultations to accelerate diagnoses and reduce time-to-treatment. Mixed reality can also superimpose 3D views of MRI images and CT scans to assist specialists and surgeons to enhance the decision-making process with access to real-time information.

Of course, it is vital to enhance the patient experience. Mixed reality solutions can enable individualised treatment plans, accelerate clinical diagnoses, and improve outcomes. It can also empower doctors and clinicians to rapidly share imaging results, better contextualise physician-patient conversations, and drive more informed patient decision-making. All this points to improving the quality of care and the patient experience. But more than that, mixed reality can equip frontline healthcare workers to improve access and care delivery to aging and underserved populations with assisted care options.

Mixed reality is fundamentally re-imagining healthcare for a more connected and digital world. It provides faster and better care at lower costs by deploying mixed reality before, during, and after procedures. Furthermore, it enables innovative telehealth solutions to improve care coordination, expand provider access, and address skill shortages. Mixed reality can also be leveraged to enable continuous learning and widespread knowledge sharing. Doctors, nurses, and technicians can train and practice using simulated training to ensure that the entire organisation keeps pace with advances in science and technology.

The following healthcare case studies practically examine how HoloLens 2 technology can transform the sector.

Fighting Covid-19

The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust provides acute and specialist healthcare in north-west London for around a million and a half people every year. It is one of the largest NHS trusts in England and, together with Imperial College London, forms an academic health science centre. To help mitigate the risk of Covid-19 infections in frontline workers during the peak period of the pandemic last year, it looked at the possibility of creating virtual ward rounds. This would alleviate the number of doctors that had to physically attend rounds.

A mixed reality solution would enable the trust to provide users with the ability to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them and interact with them using gestures, gaze, and voice. Using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, doctors wearing HoloLens, have been able to hold hands-free and heads-up Teams video calls with colleagues and experts anywhere in the world. They receive advice, interact with the caller and the patient at the same time, while medical notes and X-rays can also be placed alongside the call in the wearer’s field of view.

Such has been the success of the HoloLens 2 implementation, that the trust is looking into other areas where it can use the technology to improve healthcare without removing the human element.

Enhanced treatment

Another hospital that embraced mixed reality technology to ensure its doctors and specialists remained healthy and able to provide essential treatment during the pandemic was Beilinson Hospital, owned and operated by Israel’s largest healthcare organisation and a leader in novel surgical procedures.

Following a fast turnaround implementation, the Microsoft HoloLens and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist solution has enabled senior doctors to guide and train residents and mark points of interests on patients and equipment. Furthermore, it allows residents who are physically treating patients to consult with senior doctors remotely and provide the best possible medical care.

HoloLens enables more experienced physicians, located in a separate wing of the hospital, to log in and conduct a real-time video conversation with the resident treating a patient using a remote work application. The resident can put on the HoloLens headset and can talk simultaneously with both the senior physician and the patient, with the senior physician displayed as a 'floating' image on the headset monitor. As the headset is placed on the head and is operated by arm gestures alone, the doctor's hands are free to treat the patient and there is no need to touch anything.

The system enables doctors to gain assistance from remotely located staff too, even from home. Apart from the Covid-19 scenario, it can be used in other cases where there is a need to provide remote assistance, while relaying health-critical information.

Mixed reality potential

Mixed reality imagery and visualisations give healthcare professionals a sense of being there and immersing themselves in their environments. They can also interact with one another in ways they previously would not have thought of.

For instance, the Sheba Medical Centre in Israel, the most comprehensive of its kind in the Middle East used HoloLens headsets to train nurses and other support personnel on the use of ventilator machines that were being deployed by the hundreds during the pandemic. One of the key advantages of the technology is that it works on several layers of the brain – healthcare personnel can hear it talk, see the presentation, and can also physically touch the ventilator. The more senses involved simultaneously, the better the brain can recall resulting in a significantly enhanced learning environment.

Clearly, mixed reality solutions in healthcare have considerable potential to save lives, improve the quality of care given, and educate professionals in more innovative ways.

For more information about HoloLens2 email: [email protected]

* Johannes Kanis is the Cloud and Enterprise Business Group Lead at Microsoft South Africa