SA takes part in HoloLens 2 mixed reality surgery trial

Posted on 8 Apr 2021

Microsoft’s mixed-reality (MR) headset, HoloLens 2, made its debut during lockdown at a first-of-its-kind event that brought together 15 surgeons from 13 countries virtually to perform orthopaedic surgeries over 24 hours.

Some of the procedures ranged from a knee surgery in the United Arab Emirates to a shoulder replacement in South Africa.

Dr Stephen Roche, Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Cape Town, and a surgeon at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, represented South Africa for three of the holographic surgeries – one here and two in France and Germany via a remote assistive role.

The surgeons collaborated virtually using the wireless HoloLens 2, which works with hand gestures and voice commands and allows the viewing of 3D holographic images or patient X-rays.

Surgeons can share their real-time view, while benefiting from their peers’ remote input, or in a training set-up for medical students. The headset works with apps and solutions that enhance or enable collaboration, innovation and productivity.

Prof Roche says peer interactions and recording of the surgery makes you feel the other surgeons are in the room with you. “Using this new technology and discussing surgery of the shoulder with world-recognised surgeons has allowed closer relations with the international shoulder community, especially as our normal interactions in international meetings have been cancelled during the pandemic.

“We’re all trying to solve some of the problems of shoulder replacements from different perspectives, and this allows us to share our knowledge in real time,” he adds. “I think it has been a fantastic opportunity to show shoulder surgery in South Africa to the world.”

Prof Roche has also been using the MR headset regularly in theatre, allowing students have the same view through a computer screen. This, he says, is an immersive experience itself. However, it’s still in a trial phase, with one issue being poor Wi-Fi connectivity.

“It’s an exciting tool that will enhance teaching, especially in the surgical field where visualisation of surgery will be enhanced. This will allow easier access for many more surgeons to enter the theatre remotely and improve their exposure,” he says.

When the HoloLens 2 becomes more readily available, Prof Roche says it will enable doctors in remote areas to make clinical decisions and have access to advice while they’re performing surgery by having a more experienced surgeon with the same view as them.

“The advising surgeon now has the ability to bring many resources into the remote surgery, such as videos clips, CT scans and other holograms to help guide the surgeon through the case.”

Being able to operate with world leaders in their field giving opinions and different solutions real-time in surgery opens the door for everyone to access better knowledge and surgical skills at the end of another computer screen or handheld device, adds Prof Roche. “It also reinforced my belief that the surgery performed in South Africa, as well as our clinical decision-making, is up there with the rest of the world.”

Published in Business