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Augmented reality puts holograms, data at fingertips of surgeons


Across many orthopedic subspecialties, surgeons are experiencing a taste of the future in the OR with the use of augmented reality.

Although augmented reality (AR) can be found in the published literature starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, George S. Athwal, MD, of Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, noted the use of AR in orthopedic surgery began as a “one off.”

“[Augmented reality] in the 1990s did not take off because it was so new and so clunky,” Athwal, who presently uses Blueprint Mixed Reality Technology (Stryker), told Orthopedics Today, adding that many more AR systems have become commercially available within the last 2 years.

“All of a sudden, the technology is becoming more adaptable because it is user friendly and it is mass produced,” Athwal said.

Expansion potential

Currently used in total hip, knee and shoulder replacement, as well as certain spine surgery procedures, sources who spoke with Orthopedics Today said the use of AR could be expanded to include other surgical procedures.

“You could make an argument to use it on everything, because any time you are adding information, you are adding value to the surgeon,” Jonathan M. Vigdorchik, MD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Hospital for Special Surgery, said.

With the use of computer navigation and robotics in orthopedic surgery in the last few decades, Vigdorchik said AR is the “next step toward a small profile, easy to use, efficient, low-cost computer-aided technology.” Although orthopedic surgeons have traditionally used techniques that involved “eyeballing” implant placement, AR provides surgeons with information during each step of the procedure, according to Vigdorchik.

“That is the key function of all these different technologies. When you are going to cut something, instead of closing one eye, eyeballing it, lining it up with your hand or some metal rod, you are doing it with the latest technological advances and it is giving you information at the time that you need it,” Vigdorchik said.

By Casey Tingle | Orthopedics Today

Image Credit: Jonathan Tufts

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