A clinical paper published last October described how surgeons in Spain tested Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality (MR) headsets and MR applications during the removal of a kidney tumor.
The headsets provided surgeons with real-time medical anatomical visualizations, preoperative imaging, a procedural checklist and the patient’s medical history. Technology experts believe that applications like this provide what’s known as wearable cognitive assistance (WCA) that could significantly improve clinical processes and safety, and reduce costs. These artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled devices can help health systems reduce the time to perform surgeries by as much as 30%.
WCA fuses wearable devices with computer vision and edge computing to amplify human cognition in real time and provide step-by-step instructions to complete certain tasks, notes a recent Deloitte report. WCA uses task-specific software that verifies that the work has been completed correctly and, if needed, can connect to live human experts for assistance.
3 Ways WCA Could Improve Surgery and Clinical Equipment Repairs
Apan Tiwari, Deloitte managing director and co-author of the firm’s report on WCA, says the technology could change workflow processes in health care and other areas. Potential WCA applications in health care include:
1 | Advance Surgical Training
Currently available emerging technologies can be used for basic surgical training, Tiwari notes, but with WCA, the AI-enabled, task-specific software can provide real-time feedback to surgeons. This could make training more effective. Surgeons around the world could be trained in the latest surgical techniques with this approach.
2 | Provide Live Surgery Support
The task-specific software can guide a surgeon through a procedure as it’s being performed, with the option of dialing in an expert if the situation calls for it. Surgeons also can use the tool for planning surgeries, with the software on the device providing recommendations and options.
3 | Deliver Smart Repairs and Maintenance
WCA can improve safety and well-being while enhancing the quality and efficiency of work, the report notes. Repairs can be made in difficult-to-maneuver or hazardous spaces with the guidance and verification capabilities WCA software offers, with potential health care applications including hospital and pharmaceutical equipment.
The Future of WCA
The market for enterprise wearable devices (e.g., smart glasses, smart watches, exoskeletons, augmented reality and mixed-reality headsets and connected helmets) is expected to grow roughly twentyfold to more than $21 billion by 2027, notes a MarketResearch.com analysis, as WCA becomes more commonplace across health care, manufacturing and other fields.
To facilitate these technology applications, WCA devices need to be compact and powerful while offering better battery life, Tiwari says.
This requires augmenting on-device storage and a more expansive edge computing infrastructure, all connected via a high-speed, low-latency wireless connection such as 5G. This enables WCA devices to integrate real-time image capture, processing, action validation and recommend an action through AI-infused, task-specific software.
Issues to Resolve
Nevertheless, before WCA can reach its potential in health care, several issues need to be addressed, including:
- Standards for WCA implementations don’t yet exist.
- As with any new technology, cybersecurity and privacy vulnerabilities need to be addressed before installation.
- Low-latency wireless plus edge for indoor use is ready for prime time now, using fixed-wireless public 5G or private 5G/Wi-Fi plus on-premises edge computing, Tiwari says. In general, mobile-outdoor use cases will require expanded 5G coverage from telecommunication companies.
How to Begin Planning for WCA Implementation
Tiwari says health care executives exploring potential applications of WCA should begin by asking fundamental questions like:
- What problem are we trying to solve for?
- Why does this matter?
- What returns can we expect on our investments?
After answering these questions, think about the solution, which may include a WCA component. Most likely, you’ll need a support ecosystem and the right decision-makers, including:
- System integrators.
- Device original equipment manufacturers (OEM).
- A 5G/WiFi network operator.
- On-premises edge/cloud computing and storage provider.
- Specialized software from an OEM.