Skip to main content


Could Virtual, Augmented Reality Augment Medicine?

By MedPage Today  
   March 31, 2017

The role of these technologies in trauma, psychiatry, and neurosurgery are expected to be in widespread use one day, but the replacement of real practitioners is not the goal. From MedPage Today.

This article first appeared March 29, 2017 on MedPage Today.

By Ryan Basen

WASHINGTON -- Sarah Murthi, MD, stood between an ultrasound monitor and a University of Maryland student supine on a medical bed at the Newseum here. Clad in a pink scrub, the University of Maryland School of Medicine trauma surgeon demonstrated a new way to view ultrasound images as a dozen or so onlookers stared and occasionally chuckled. One by one, audience members donned goggles to see images from inside the student for themselves.

Murthi was one of a handful of practitioners who demonstrated augmented reality and virtual reality technologies for medicine at Newseum VRMeets: Health and Medicine Monday evening. They exhibited these technologies' roles in trauma, psychiatry, and neurosurgery—as well as sports psychology and pain management.

Augmented reality superimposes digital information on top of a natural sensual experience; the now terminated Google Glass was an early application. Virtual reality creates an immersive simulated environment in which, for example, turning one's head around causes the imagery to turn as well, and it can be displayed in 3-D.

While speakers at the event extolled the technologies and predicted widespread medical implementation one day, they were careful to note they are not advocating for either version of reality to replace real practitioners. "This is an additional tool," University of Southern California computer scientist Arno Hartholt said of a virtual reality program for treating psychiatric disorders that he works with. "The tool still needs clinician guidance."

Outside the studio, Ben Barone, MA, demonstrated a system he uses to show elite athletes their nervous system activity on a monitor in real time, to prepare them for competition. Observers donned measurement devices on their fingers and placed fingers on their neck to feel their pulse, while viewing their heart rates and breathing patterns. This is heart rate variability biofeedback, which promotes both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity, said Barone, co-founder of Coresights.

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.