It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but revolutionary technology is allowing surgeons to see more details inside their patients with less cutting, and doctors in Northern Virginia are leading the way on the world stage.
Using augmented reality (AR), surgeons at Virginia Spine Institute wear special headsets and images pop up in front of their eyes as they operate.
The images are from CT scans, providing high-resolution, three-dimensional pictures of the patient’s spine superimposed over the patient’s actual anatomy.
“We can actually look at the patient and simultaneously see the scan so it’s like we have a blueprint right in front of us,” said Dr. Christopher Good, a spine surgeon and the president of Virginia Spine Institute in Reston.
The surgeons use the AR “Xvision” system, made by Augmedics.
“We can see the patient’s anatomy and the details from the scan at the same time,” said Dr. Good.
With traditional surgery, doctors need to make an incision and open up the patient in a more invasive way to get a look at everything they need to see.
That is not necessarily the case with AR, as surgeons can rely more on the CT scan to guide them, similar to a driver using a GPS device on the road.
“We can have that scan live in front of our eyes while we’re working on the patient to allow us to improve the accuracy and quality of what we’re doing,” said Dr. Good. “It allows us to work through much smaller incisions so we don’t have to open the patient up as much.”
One famous example of AR technology can be seen in Pokémon Go, a mobile game that allows
smartphone users to look through their camera and see an image of a cartoon character as if it were actually there in the real world.
Pioneers in the industry
In October, Dr. Good became the first doctor to use AR for spinal surgery in the Virginia and
Washington, D.C. area. (3)
It was a lumbar fusion, which involves eliminating the motion between vertebrae by “welding” the
Dr. Good said he was able to seamlessly incorporate the innovative technology into his established
“The beautiful thing about augmented reality is I can put the headset on and have the scan right in front of me, but I can still use the traditional techniques that I’ve been trained on over all these years,” said Dr. Good, who added that he could still complete the surgery safely if the image were to disappear for some reason.
“It’s intuitive,” he said. “We can see the patient but this gives us additional information brought up right in front of us.”
Another AR pioneer at Virginia Spine Institute is Dr. Ehsan Jazini.
In November, Dr. Jazini performed the world’s first AR laminectomy, which creates space and enlarges the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
Dr. Jazini then used AR in hybrid spine surgery, combining a lumbar disc replacement and spinal fusion.
He was the first in the world to do that as well.
“Using augmented reality allows the surgeon to ultimately focus on the patient,” Dr. Jazini said, noting that doctors have had to traditionally glance over at scans and pictures during surgery.
“I want to be looking directly at the patient the entire time,” said Dr. Jazini. “That improves precision, makes the surgery more efficient and less invasive because we don’t have to see as much of the anatomy by exposing it and cutting the skin.”
Smaller incisions lead to less muscle damage, meaning patients don’t experience as much pain and spend fewer days in the hospital.
“More often than not our patients were staying in the hospital for four or five days after traditional surgery,” Dr. Jazini said. “Using this technology, our patients are recovering more quickly and even going home the next day.”
And this is only the beginning.
The groundbreaking technology has the potential to continue transforming spinal surgery – and all surgeries – for the better.
“The future is extremely bright because I think we’re going to be applying this across all the different fields of medicine,” said Dr. Good.
“This type of innovation has limitless possibilities,” Dr. Jazini added. “We’re at the tip of the iceberg.”
Learn how augmented reality is complimenting the surgeon’s technique to make surgeries safer and less invasive for patients by scheduling a consultation with Virginia Spine Institute.