As artificial intelligence and other technologies continue to move into the medical field, a growing number of doctors are showing interest in how these innovations can transform all aspects of patient care — including surgery.
Augmented reality (AR) smart glasses are wearable devices that enhance how people interact with the world around them. This is one such technology that’s seeing wider use.
“AR devices provide users with an enhanced view of their surroundings by overlaying digital images, graphics and information onto the physical environment they see through the glasses,” said Paul Travers, president and CEO of New York-based Vuzix, a leading supplier of smart glasses and AR technologies and products, in an interview with Fox News Digital.
In the operating room, smart glasses allow surgeons to access important information they need in a real-time, hands-free environment — without having to look away from the procedure to check a computer screen.
A quarter of U.S. surgeons have already started using AR smart glasses.
Meanwhile, an additional 31% of surgeons are considering using them, according to a study by global research firm Censuswide, which gathered insights from over 500 surgeons across America.
Forty-nine percent of the surgeons said they believed AR smart glasses could reduce complications and fatalities in the operating room, said the study, commissioned by Vuzix.
Other benefits cited by surgeons included greater access to in-depth information within their field of view, less need for entry and exit from the operating room, and potential cost reductions in surgical equipment and staff, according to a press release announcing the findings.
The surgeons also said that AR glasses could promote collaboration with remote clinical teams and could expedite prep times before surgery.
“This report reveals the transformative power of AR technology in improving patient outcomes,” said Travers.
“By providing real-time information, remote assistance and advanced visualization capabilities, AR smart glasses have the potential to revolutionize surgeries.”
Vuzix’s smart glasses are designed specifically to work in the operating room, Travers noted.
Unlike other larger, bulkier models, these are “super lightweight,” he said — just 2.8 ounces. “They slide right up next to the eye loops the doctor is wearing,” he added.
“The newest pair that we just came out with, the ultralight, look exactly like a pair of Oakleys,” said Travers
AR combined with AI: ‘Game-changing stuff’
Some of the companies using Vuzix’s smart glasses technology, such as the virtual surgery platform Proximie, pair the AR smart glasses with artificial intelligence.
“Proximie is using the smart glasses to record the operations, putting them in a database and using AI to go back and compile all of that information,” Travers said.
“That way, it will be available for the next time this operation is being done, along with all the learnings that have happened in the past.”
“AR smart glasses have the potential to revolutionize surgeries.”
For example, if a surgeon is putting in a stent during heart surgery, the AI engine can provide recommendations for the best type of stent for that particular patient, based on the last thousand similar operations.”
“The AI engine can help pick and choose the best kinds of solutions, live in the operating room,” Travers said. “That’s game-changing stuff, when you have a history of thousands of operations at the doctor’s beck and call during live operations.”
Collaborating for better patient outcomes
One of the primary applications of Vuzix’s AR smart glasses is joint collaboration between doctors in different locations.
The glasses come equipped with sensors, cameras and connectivity features to enable interactive experiences. These include streaming what the wearer sees to a remote expert who can offer guidance and even draw or annotate over what the wearer is seeing in real time, said Travers.
A doctor in South Africa, for example, may need assistance when doing an open-heart surgery procedure for the first time. In this case, an expert in San Francisco or New York City can log in and help remotely.
“It’s just like he’s standing right next to the doctor in the operating room in South Africa — he can draw on what the doctor is seeing on the overlay of the 4K broadcast-quality camera feed and say, ‘Cut this tissue first,’ or, ‘Use this stent instead of that one,’” Travers explained.
In that type of scenario, he said, the technology actually could help save the patient’s life.
Glasses ‘merge two different views into one single view’
Doctors are also using Vuzix’s smart glasses to enhance training for medical students.
One example Travers cited is a doctor who’s getting ready to do open heart surgery and wants to teach 300 students how to do this particular kind of procedure.
Using AR smart glasses, the doctor can transmit 4K broadcast-quality video and audio as he or she operates.
“As the doctor is doing the operation, students from around the world can log into a HIPAA-compliant livestream and the doctor can describe each step along the way,” he said.
AR glasses offer a “huge step forward” in this type of training, which isn’t physically possible in the operating room, Travers pointed out.
“The five people who are around the doctor have just enough space to help him with the operation,” he said. “There is no way another person can sit there, let alone see what’s going on inside the chest cavity of the person that’s being operated on.”
Ahmed Ghazi, a New York-based associate professor of urology and oncology at the Brady Neurological Institute at Johns Hopkins University, has been using the Vuzix smart glasses when performing surgeries — primarily to train and educate students in various locations.
The trainee wears the glasses, which project what the person is seeing onto a transparent frame that overlays Ghazi’s hands onto the field of view.
“The glasses merge two different views into one single view, so I can observe what the trainee is doing,” Ghazi told Fox News Digital. “They’re able to see my hands instructing them on how to maneuver through a certain part of the procedure.”
Potential risks and limitations
One of the main limitations Ghazi has experienced with smart glasses is that there can sometimes be a lag in the transmission of information when using Wi-Fi.
However, with a solid internet connection, he said it works very well.
“We had some dropped calls initially, but then after an update, we didn’t have that issue whatsoever,” he said.
As far as using the Vuzix glasses in surgery, Ghazi said he believes the hardware and software are in place to enable that, yet more testing needs to happen first.
“We would have to go through tests to make 100% sure there are no dropped calls and no technical issues, compared to other types of virtual or augmented reality platforms,” he said.