HoloLens Sheds Light on How Mixed Reality Technology Can Benefit Patients and Care Teams

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies across many industries as many businesses moved to remote work models. The healthcare industry was tasked with figuring out how to address the influx of patients, how to manage continuously changing safety protocols and how to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. Because of this, many institutions turned to technology to address everything from education and training to live treatment support.

Mixing Digital Worlds With the Real World

AR brings simulated objects into a user’s world, while VR brings the user into a simulated world. Melding AR with VR, mixed reality (MR) lets users interact with digital objects within their physical environment. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern Medicine had been exploring how these technologies could be used to better care for patients and serve staff at all levels.

MR workplace solutions have:

  • Significantly reduced the time it takes employees to complete tasks
  • Enabled the quick mastery of skills
  • Vastly reduced errors and the need for service calls

In some cases, there has been as much as a 46% reduction in time to complete tasks and average productivity improvements of 32%.

One tool that Northwestern Medicine has been exploring is the Microsoft HoloLens 2 Headset, an ergonomic, untethered and self-contained holographic device. In a healthcare setting, the HoloLens can use MR to enhance training efficiency, boost productivity, reduce operational costs and increase patient satisfaction.

Fostering Ideas and Putting Them to Use

In collaboration with Microsoft, Northwestern Medicine hosted a two-day “Idea-A-Thon” to give different departments a chance to try the MR device and explore how they might use it in their daily operations.

Current pilot projects are happening across the system. At the Maxine and Thomas B. Hunter III Simulation and Education Center at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, nurses are using three headsets to train for clinical services such as drawing blood from a central line IV and managing chest tubes. The HoloLens is being used to test 3D visualization of MRI and CT images in Neurosurgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Pathology at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center.

Accelerating Transformation and Cultivating Change

Several other departments across Northwestern Medicine are interested in the technology, including Human Resources, Cardiology and General Surgery. Thousands of studies show how these emerging technologies can improve behaviors, attitudes and patient health across multiple clinical sectors. It is also becoming easier to adopt the technologies in new clinical care settings.

There are a lot of use cases for MR technologies, and the list continues to grow as improvements are made to the devices and functionality. Many areas across Northwestern Medicine from virtual therapies for substance use disorders to real-time treatment support with guides and virtual monitors for surgeries could potentially use this technology in the not-too-distant future.

Now more than ever, the digital and real worlds are merging in ways that could benefit both patients and care teams across Northwestern Medicine and beyond.