Many of us have been familiar with holograms for quite some time through watching popular sci-fi movies like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Iron Man’. Today, however, holograms no longer exclusively belong to the realm of fantasy. As I am writing this, holographic technology is already helping doctors deliver better care in medical fields as wide-ranging as surgery, tumour localisation and remote therapy or telehealth. It could also bring along a profound change in communication among medical professionals.
Holography is a photographic technique that records the light scattered from an object, and then presents it in a way that appears three-dimensional. Though the technique has been around for over half a century – since the early sixties, in fact – it has taken until this decade for holography to finally conquer the medical world.
Mixing reality with holography.
The big breakthrough of holography in healthcare is largely due to its integration with digital technology and, more particularly, artificial intelligence (AI). When holography and AI come together, what you get is, for instance, a Mixed Reality (MR) device like the HoloLens.
That device, developed and manufactured by Microsoft, tries to blend the real and the digital world. And that is exactly how it differs from a Virtual Reality (VR) device and an Augmented Reality (AR) device. Whereas the former immerses the user in a digital world that is altogether different or even entirely fictitious, the latter lets the user interact with the real world, but adds a layer of digital objects to it. The Mixed Reality (MR) technology underpinning the HoloLens offers the best of both worlds, in a way, by allowing the user to engage and interact with holographic objects in the real world.
(Potential) Healthcare applications.
Also, whereas before surgeons could only plan surgical pathways using 2D images that were overlaid on a map of the patient’s body, now holograms allow them to literally place a map inside the body. This enables them to better navigate around certain tissue structures and avoid unnecessary damage.
Next to these ground-breaking developments in 3D medical imaging, there is also the clear and simple advantage of surgeons having their hands free while operating. For, as the hologram assists them with specific instructions, the need to ever manually check devices such as tablets or phones is eliminated.
Communication beyond words.
Holographic technology, it is expected, will also completely transform the way medical professionals communicate on the job. Currently, these professionals are still using 2D medical imaging tools and communicating what they observe with words. But human language, as we all know from experience, is far from perfect. Holographic technology, by showing what the specific problem is without having to explain it with words, manages to avoid linguistic misunderstandings.
Finally, through the development of holographic tools with new features such as 3D Skype calls or ‘holoportation’, the need for doctors and patients to travel will be eliminated. And the medical industry as a whole will be transformed.
We’re not there yet, though. If you would like to found out what obstacles holographic Mixed Reality (MR) devices are still facing today and what their appeal might be beyond healthcare, please read this blog post by my colleague Scott Leaman, Mixed Reality Leader at Sopra Steria.