Exploring the Power and Potential of Augmented Reality Devices

Medical professional using augmented reality medical software.
Medical professional using augmented reality medical software.

Augmented reality (AR) technology is just about everywhere. We can take pictures of ourselves and superimpose a virtual shot of a haircut or a pair of pants to see how it would look on us. We can photograph our living room, upload it to a website, and layout furniture before buying it. We can even cover up a messy bookshelf behind us on a virtual video call. But beyond providing us with everyday conveniences, augmented reality is also changing the face of medicine.

 How Augmented Reality Devices are Used in Medicine

Augmented reality technologies overlay the real-world environment with digital information. In the healthcare setting, medical professionals use augmented reality devices to optimize patient treatment. For example, a practitioner can view the targeted area of the body and superimpose additional data or images for a more comprehensive understanding and approach to treatment. In a surgical setting, surgeons also use AR to digitally overlay scans onto the operative area to identify regions of interest and track critical structures more efficiently. In addition to using augmented reality devices in surgery, surgeons also use AR for preoperative planning and even training.

Unlike virtual reality medicine applications that immerse users in an entirely simulated environment, augmented reality technology integrates digital information into the real-world setting in the natural environment.

 Important Considerations for Augmented Reality Devices

Though they offer many advantages, augmented reality applications in healthcare and surgery also come with unique challenges and considerations. If the AR isn’t working properly, it may set off a sequence of events that lead to hazardous situations and potential harm to the patient. For that reason, additional factors must be taken into consideration for healthcare applications as compared to other commercial uses, including:

  • Usability Engineering: The operating room is a high-pressure environment with a small margin for error. Augmented reality devices used in surgeries must meet high standards for usability engineering, with the ability to present information clearly, concisely, and intuitively. AR medical devices must provide the physician with important information without overloading them to the point of distraction. For example, a wearable AR device must be designed to be worn by a surgeon for an extended period without shifting or reducing image quality. 
    Usability engineering is also crucial in ensuring the device allows the surgeon to register (correlate the real-world characteristic with a digital reference point) the patient’s anatomy with their preoperative scans. The AR tool should provide an indication that ensures the real-world and digital entities match and are lined up properly.
  • Cybersecurity: Any connected device is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. While augmented reality devices may greatly aid in a procedure, they must not introduce threats to the patient, their privacy, or the hospital or medical institution.
  • Regulatory Oversight:Consumer AR goods and AR medical devices are not the same; an AR device purchased at your local technology store cannot be used in the operating room. When used in a medical setting, an AR device must undergo the same rigorous process as any other medical device, adhering to appropriate regulatory standards for things like usability engineering, cybersecurity, electromechanical operations, electrostatic discharge, emissions, biocompatibility, cleaning procedures, and more. Developers must show they followed quality, design, and other appropriate controls mandated by the relevant regulatory body, like FDA design controls. Regulatory entities must ensure the augmented reality device will provide the same or better quality of care as other approved devices or treatment options.  

In the operating room, precision is paramount. Augmented reality devices provide surgeons with valuable tools to enhance their surgical precision—but only if they’re designed, developed, and tested according to the appropriate regulatory requirements, cybersecurity standards, and usability principles. Sterling Medical Devices has the industry knowledge and expertise in medical device engineering to bring medical devices to market faster, ensuring things are done correctly the first time.To learn more about how our team of seasoned engineers can help you design and develop an AR medical device or for other medical device software development needs, contact us here

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