Hospitals in the NHS, the UK private sector and in India have joined forces in operating on the same patient from three different places in two countries harnessing augmented reality to collaborate with a holographic real-time image of the procedure.
Using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, colorectal surgeon Prof Shafi Ahmed was able to remove a tumour from a patient at the Royal London Hospital, assisted by Consultant Colorectal Surgeon Hitesh Patel at BMI The London Independent Hospital and Prof Shailesh Shrikhande at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
Prof Ahmed, who also has a private practice at BMI The London Independent Hospital, said: “We simultaneously wore HoloLens headsets to appear live in the same hospital operating theatre where I was operating to remove bowel cancer. We could 'see' each other moving as graphic avatars, standing and speaking as if we were together in the room.”
The project was coordinated by the three hospitals, virtual reality company Medical Realities and software provider Aetho which supplied the “Thrive” software.
Each specialist was able to point to pre-uploaded patient scans appearing as 3D holograms of the tumour hovering in the theatre, virtually drawing on the images to aid discussion, all while the patient was on the operating table.
Professor Ahmed said: "We have truly integrated technology with healthcare. By bringing together specialists in real time from across the world and different time zones we have demonstrated that we can make surgery safer and ensure the best patient outcomes and democratise surgical practice."
Prof Ahmed explained that the technology allowed the whole virtual multidisciplinary team the time to discuss the complexities of the case, which was not always available across hospitals due to diary constraints and availability of specialists. The technology allowed a move away from a slide deck, presentation-based approach to communication of patient scans.
Mr Patel added: “This was the first time I’ve used the HoloLens and I found it very exciting. It takes a while to get used to but it was clear to see the other people involved as a hologram. It was an amazing way to interact with eminent surgeons across the world, and discuss the case and look at the same images together. It’s also nice to have everything in front of you without sifting through paper, trying to find results – so all of these are great benefits to the patient.”
This was not the first time that Prof Ahmed has pushed the boundaries of technology in healthcare. Dubbed 'the virtual surgeon', Prof Ahmed has pioneered the use of technology during surgery. In 2014 he used Google glasses to aid the learning of surgical students by transporting 13,000 people from 115 countries directly into the operating theatre, and more recently ventured into Virtual Reality using Google Cardboard and Snapchat Spectacles.
Sunny Chada, Executive Director at BMI The London Independent hospital said: “This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this in healthcare – the closest thing I’ve seen is when my kids do virtual gaming! I’m delighted that two Consultants from BMI The London Independent Hospital were involved in a world first. We’re pleased to have such an inspirational man in Shafi Ahmed work with us. This technology could be used in any medical specialty. Today it was used for bowel cancer, but tomorrow it could be orthopaedics or renal medicine – so I’m expecting to see huge improvements in patient outcomes as we embrace technology in healthcare.”
Professor Shailesh Shrikande said: "I am delighted that Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, one of the largest premier cancer centres of the world, has taken the lead yet again to meet challenges of modern day surgical training in this part of the world. The platform is simply amazing but it would be even more fascinating a journey to see how this platform evolves to transform patient care across a vast country like India by revolutionising surgical training in a nation that thrives in different centuries at the same time"
Prof Ahmed concluded: "Augmented and Virtual Reality have incredible potential, not only in the NHS but also to encourage collaboration to improve accessibility, equity and safety in developing countries.”
23rd October 2017