While we at ARinMED are firm believers in the potential of augmented reality in all fields of medicine, we’d be irresponsible to blindly advocate for it without recognizing its limitations. Augmented reality, like all technology, has both pros and cons. We spend a lot of time on the pros–because there truly are so many! But today, we wanted to talk about some of the cons. There are things it can’t do, and there are legal pitfalls. Not everything is possible, at least, not yet, and this is especially true in the field of surgery. From its ancient origins in trepanation to the modern day operating room, the surgical field is constantly incorporating new and exciting technologies into its practice, and AR is surely one of them. However, despite all the things that AR can do, there are also a lot of things that it cannot.
Of course, it’s easy to think of applications for AR. It’s a versatile technology with infinite possibilities, but it’s important to recognize its faults. First of all, it’s no secret that surgery can be a long process. Whether you’ve performed it or you’ve waited for a loved one to emerge from one, almost everyone has had some experience with a long surgery. Some can even last 12 to 18 hours. They can last so long that battery life of technology can become an issue. The Microsoft HoLolens has a battery life of about 5.5 hours, and the Google Glass’s battery lasted about 30 minutes while recording video, one of its main uses. It could become a problem to have to charge up or switch headsets during a surgery. They change gloves, scrubs, and instruments, but having to change the display could be a lot more problematic. Battery life must be improved in order for this technology to be fully applicable in the OR.
Developing an augmented or mixed reality application for medicine isn’t easy. It requires not only the software developers, producers, and programmers that are normally involved in this sort of technology design, but also ideas and input from physicians. After all, these aren’t just gaming apps–they’re going to be used on real patients, with needs and rights. HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) ensures the confidentiality of patient medical information, and the Data Protection Act 1988 in the UK outlines specific guidelines for ensuring that healthcare providers and third parties working with patient information are handling the data with respect and responsibility, doing everything they can to ensure it is kept private. People working with AR applications for medicine will have to understand these guidelines and know how to protect patient rights.
There are, of course, other limitations to incorporating Helmet Mounted Displays into medical practice or the OR, especially in mobility and bulkiness. If the helmet isn’t lightweight and wearable, wearing the headset during long surgeries would be very impractical. Specialized informed consent might have to be developed, which means doctors would have to spend time ensuring that patients understand the technology being used and how it’s benefiting them. It will take time to get patients on board with these kinds of changes in the medical field, which means lots of medical ethics conversations for developers, physicians, and patients alike. AR technology definitely won’t help if patients are afraid of it!
Clearly, none of these limitations are impossible hurdles to jump. If they are taken seriously, they are definitely avoidable, and the very real success that AR could bring to the medical field will not be hindered by these issues so long as they are addressed properly.
What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments section!