AR is playing a bigger role in surgical education, with expert surgeons using it to walk colleagues in remote locations through tricky procedures. Startup AR telehealth firm Proximie has offices in London, Beirut and Boston. It is connecting these surgeons in Europe, Lebanon and India through its cloud-based platform, and has its sights set on the United States, according to its commercial officer, Matt Ginn.
Ginn spoke today at the Design of Medical Devices conference at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He showed video of a surgeon in Cardiff, Wales, performing complicated colorectal cancer surgery in real time, guided by an expert in Amsterdam. A surgeon in Lebanon received guidance from a pathologist in another country while excising a tumor using a surgical robot.
The company also wants to work with medtech manufacturers so they can see how their devices are being used in other countries. Proximie’s platform allows companies to record procedures that include their devices for their own libraries to help prepare clinicians for the companies’ formal training, Ginn said. The platform can also allow clinicians to review procedures collaboratively for assessment and even accreditation, he added.
“We try to give access to people and we also try to improve the quality of care,” he said.
Proximie is nearing completion of a Series A fundraising round and is recruiting employees in Europe and the U.S., according to Ginn.
Ginn was one of several presenters extolling the virtues of mixed realities in healthcare. While 3D printing has been around longer than VR and AR and has gained a foothold in anatomical modeling, it could still benefit more healthcare professionals, according to radiologist Dr. Beth Ripley, senior innovation fellow at the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. Ripley’s mission is to improve physicians’ and patients’ understanding of the data generated by medical imaging using 3D printing and virtual reality.
Surgeons who today have to stop surgery and scrub out in order to check radiological images before proceeding wouldn’t have to do so if they had a 3D-printed model of a patient’s organ that shows where the blood vessels are located, Ripley said. Adoption among surgeons has been slow, but is improving, she added.
Ripley believes that 3D printing of patient anatomies will someday be as common as X-rays are now and that virtual reality will be the next stage of radiology. “A lot of people say this is hype or fad, et cetera, but I don’t think so,” she said.
The folks at Mayo Clinic don’t think so either, according to Mark Wehde, section head of technology development for engineering at Mayo, which is based in Rochester, Minn. The engineering division does a lot of 3D modeling and printing and computational analysis, and will be adding a titanium printer to make custom implants, Wehde said.
“One of the things that Mayo is trying to figure out is how do we share our knowledge with the rest of the world, and I think some of these technologies are going to help us to do that,” he added.
Medtronic is also bullish on mixed reality, according to Mike Ryan, who leads the Fridley, Minn.-based company’s digital health team. “I really see today that the platforms for enabling the mixed reality, whether it’s augmented or virtual, are really viable platforms, and those platforms are going to drive the change we’re speaking about,” Ryan said.
Given its size and global reach, Medtronic plans to use mixed realities for medical education, he added. That’s what Becton Dickinson is doing as well, said Gayle Rose, senior manager of BD’s exponential technologies and manufacturing simulation teams in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Rose works with VR in corporate computer-aided engineering to support product development.
“Lots of folks all the way up to the C-suite are excited about using virtual reality,” she said, adding that BD’s marketing leaders have “fully embraced” VR and the company is also looking at using it in a clinical setting.
VR will allow the company to practice things that are difficult, risky, and dangerous, but it also poses many challenges, Rose added.
“I feel like we’re just moving into that space,” she said. “There are many things about VR that we’ve got to figure out.”