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Medtronic dives into augmented reality

Med tech giant Medtronic joined forces with extended reality startup Surgical Theater to equip surgeons with AR tech to boost real-time visualization during cranial surgery. The duo will use AR to give neurosurgeons a way to test their surgical strategies before entering the operating room—and use AR during procedures to give the surgeons a live, 3D view superimposed on the surgical area for better navigation.

Extended reality can improve the safety and efficacy of surgical procedures—and cut down the time surgeons spend mapping out surgical techniques.

  • AR enables surgeons to keep their eyes on the patient, thereby reducing medical errors. For context, surgeons need to continuously switch their focus among different sources of information, like patient monitors. But a single AR display integrates all patient and imaging data into one place, enabling surgeons to safely stay focused on the patient at all times. And enhancing surgeons’ visuals should help avoid preventable medical errors, which collectively cost the US billions each year.
  • Surgeons can use VR to train and test their surgical approaches before entering the operating room, which should go a long way toward improving performance. For example, VR firm Osso VR uses Oculus headsets to train surgeons on certain procedures, and its approach has paid off: In a recent study, the VR startup reported a 230% improvement in surgeons’ performance after training with the tech.

However, deep-pocketed academic hospitals will likely get their hands on AR/VR tech first—and it’ll take considerable time before smaller, financially strained health systems adopt the tech on a wide scale.

  • Larger, well-funded hospitals like Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Emory have dived into the AR surgical space. For example, Johns Hopkins neurosurgeons in February were the first to perform AR-assisted surgeries on patients using AR startup Augmedics’ headsets.
  • It’s likely these hospitals will only ramp up their investments in AR. More than 56% of AR/VR professionals expect new tech to enhance assisted surgeries over the next two years, while 68% expect new immersive tech to offer surgical training simulations—which means health systems will increasingly have larger pools of AR/VR vendors to choose from.
  • However, many smaller-scale hospitals are still recovering from pandemic-induced blows to revenues—likely making VR investments out of the question for now. A February 2021 Kaufman Hall analysis indicates that even under an optimistic scenario, most US hospitals could collectively still lose $53 billion in revenues this year alone.