Harnessing Extended Reality to Revolutionize Healthcare

Researchers are experimenting with extended reality (XR) technology in every division of Medtronic.

From the moment he put on the headgear, Vanderbilt University electrophysiologist Dr. George Crossley could see the possibilities.

“It took about 10 seconds of having this tool on my head to show me the power of having a physician see what's happening inside the heart,” he said.

Dr. George Crossley practicing implants using extended reality

Dr. Crossley practicing implants using extended reality (XR) technology.

Dr. George Crossley practicing implants using extended reality

Dr. Crossley using the extended reality (XR) simulator.

Dr. Crossley was practicing implants of Micra™ — the world’s smallest pacemaker — using an experimental, 3-D simulator that incorporates extended reality (XR) technology. 

Dr. George Crossley

Dr. George Crossley

Vanderbilt University electrophysiologist

The XR feature, using the Microsoft HoloLensTM and software developed by CAE Healthcare, allowed him to navigate inside a virtual, beating heart.

The simulation was so realistic, Crossley was convinced it could revolutionize the training of cardiologists.

“It lets us get the trainee to a much higher level, using a simulator, than we could in a hundred cases with a live patient,” he said. 

The Micra™ simulator is just one of 80 XR technology projects currently underway at Medtronic.

It lets us get the trainee to a much higher level.

Dr. George Crossley on the benefits of using XR technology in surgical training simulations.

The work includes Virtual Reality, which is a completely computer-generated experience, and Augmented Reality (AR), which overlays virtual elements over a real environment. Extended Reality (XR) refers to a combination of all real and virtual environments generated by technology and wearables.

One of 80+ extended reality (XR) technology projects underway at Medtronic

Extended Reality at Medtronic

One of 80+ extended reality (XR) projects underway at Medtronic.

Medtronic experts agree the potential for XR technology to revolutionize healthcare extends  beyond cardiology. 

Medtronic Diabetes already uses holograms to help educate patients about diabetes management or to troubleshoot their insulin pumps. And they’re developing XR programs to help train on the best way to insert glucose sensors.

“Ultimately, our goal is that patients have to think less about their Diabetes,” said Rebecca Gottlieb, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Technology at Medtronic Diabetes. “For me, the future isn't scary, it's really exciting.” 

Potential Impact on Healthcare Costs and Everyday Life

Studies have shown1 that many of the 425 million people2 worldwide who live with diabetes struggle to control their disease, and that struggle is costly. It’s estimated that every year, nearly 300,000 people with diabetes visit an emergency room in the U.S. for hypoglycemia, and about 175,000 go to an ER for hyperglycemic crises.3 Helping people with diabetes manage their diet has the potential to save health systems money by reducing the need for medical intervention.

Rebecca Gottlieb, Ph.D.

Rebecca Gottlieb, Ph.D.

Medtronic Diabetes

Gottlieb and her teams are exploring several XR technology-related ideas that could help people living with diabetes better manage their daily diets.

“Let’s say you walk into a restaurant,” Gottlieb said. “You look at the menu. Smart glasses could read the menu and maybe we highlight for you what the best choice is based on your current glucose reading.”

People with diabetes often need to be experts in tracking and counting carbohydrates. But some day, a smart device might count the carbs on their plate, and predict how their bodies will respond. ”Diabetes is a disease of data,” Gottlieb said. “Patients are constantly having to think and adjust. ‘Am I stressed? Am I feeling okay? Am I about to exercise? Should I eat something?’ All of those calculations have to spin around in their heads all day.  What we're hoping to do is give them that brain space back so they can go on with their lives.”

Technology Frontier: What Lies Ahead

Researchers are experimenting with XR technology in every division of Medtronic. 

Jay Reid is a director of heart procedure training. He sees similarities between this research and space exploration of the 1960s and 1970s.

'I think it is a big deal, and I think the sky is the limit,” Reid said. “In the medical device world, we are on that leading edge, exploring space — virtual and digital space — that we have thought about, dreamed about. Now it's coming to fruition.”

Jay Reid, Director of Procedure Training

Jay Reid, director of procedure training

Experimenting with extended reality (XR) technology at the Medtronic Applied Innovation Lab

One such concept involves importing MRI or CT scans of a patient into an extended reality simulator, allowing doctors to practice a surgical procedure on a virtual replica of a person’s anatomy before performing the actual surgery.

FAST FACT: MORE THAN 80 EXTENDED REALITY PROJECTS ARE NOW UNDERWAY AT MEDTRONIC, IN EVERY DIVISION OF THE COMPANY.

“What might seem futuristic is really here today. It's what's happening now,” said Brian Bechard, a member of the Medtronic Healthcare Innovation Team within the company's Digital Health, Emerging Technologies group. “The XR technology projects currently in progress allow us to put our hands around what this space can become. I’m really excited about what the next five years hold for us.”

Brian Bechard

Brian Bechard

Medtronic Healthcare Innovation Team

Bechard believes it’s only a matter of time before XR technology is used during a live surgical procedure. And he envisions a day when the combination of XR, robotics and artificial intelligence might allow a surgeon to operate on a patient located miles away.

Wherever the technology leads, doctors like Crossley are encouraged about the possibilities of turning “extended reality” into an “actual reality” that helps improve the lives of patients.

"If I close my eyes and think about what the future could look like, that's a very nice picture,” Crossley said.

References

1

http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/36/5/1384

2

https://www.idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes/facts-figures.html

3

http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/diaclin/early/2017/12/20/cd17-0094.full.pdf

Important Information

Diabetes-related technology discussed in this story is future technology that is not available commercially and that has not been approved by Health Canada