Augmented and virtual realities are the future of medicine

VR and AR technology is not just for entertainment. The potential practical applications for healthcare professionals could transform the industry.

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Effective June 1, 2018, DXC U.S. Public Sector became part of Perspecta Inc.

Yesterday’s miracle of innovation is often today’s standard technology ready to be improved, and medical scanning is no exception. For the past few decades, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have given healthcare professionals an unprecedented diagnostic tool for various diseases and conditions. But what if they could be improved upon? Every technology has constraints: MRIs and CTs are two-dimensional images depicting the three-dimensional human body. What if we could apply existing augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) technology to give healthcare professionals a more complete picture?

Thanks to advances in the field of radiological imaging, doctors have more information than ever at their fingertips. But that influx of data adds time to the review process, which also adds costs. Viewing results from such scans can be time-intensive: A single CT scan may be composed of more than 1,000 separate 2-D images, which the radiologist must review individually and use to manually create a 3-D composite. This time commitment, combined with the price of the scan itself, has driven up costs: The total annual costs of medical imaging have doubled since 2008, to an estimated $200 billion.1

Detecting tumors at an early stage can be critical to saving lives, but it is extremely difficult to do with a typical scan. With current diagnostic methods, an early-stage tumor may appear as only a few pixels on one or two of the hundreds of images produced by a scan. Determining the exact pattern of microcalcifications, which can indicate the severity of the disease, can be even harder. This can lead to false positives and false negatives that result in misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis of cancer. VR and AR applications could help this process in several ways, which could help doctors make correct diagnoses more quickly, while saving families the unnecessary emotional hardship and distress of false diagnosis.

AR and VR technology could make the processing of diagnostic images more efficient. With this technology, it could be possible to create a 3-D visualization of CT and MRI scans. Instead of scrubbing through hundreds and thousands of images produced by a normal scan, these visualizations could be tagged for searches and equipped with fly-through and zooming capabilities that radiologists could use to spot potential growth more quickly and easily, saving critical time and money.

In addition to enhancing the processing of data, AR and VR have the potential to improve communications between radiologists and surgeons, helping radiologists better explain to surgeons a tumor’s exact location, and enabling them to coordinate a plan of attack. Traditional scan results don’t give surgeons the same sense of depth that a 3-D model does: Once cancer is detected and classified, a 3-D model can give doctors a better idea of exactly where in the body any cancer cells could be found — and how to remove them.

This technology has the potential to revolutionize healthcare procedures, but work must be done before it can be productized and brought to market. Doctors, surgeons and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration need to be shown the versatility of VR and AR, not to mention progress and results, before they are ready to approve and adopt the technology wholesale. Working with partners who know the technology to develop it for medical use could help healthcare organizations close this gap.

VR and AR technology is not just for entertainment. The potential practical applications for healthcare professionals could transform the industry. By partnering with technology leaders such as DXC U.S. Public Sector to create and implement an approach that works, healthcare organizations can improve patient care, and at the same time save time and money.

1 Ferroli, P.; Tringali, G.; Acerbi, F.; Schiariti, M.; Broggi, M.; Aquino, D.; Broggi, G. Advanced 3-dimensional planning in neurosurgery. Neurosurgery 2013, 72, A54–A62.

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