How Philips Is Using Augmented Reality to Improve Spinal Surgery

Philips is now developing real-time augmented reality technology to guide spinal surgery and make it less invasive, the Dutch company announced last week.

In recent years, spinal surgery has moved from “open surgery” — where screws and large incisions were made — to a less invasive process where doctors rely on smaller incisions and tiny surgical tools to treat spinal injuries. This development makes advanced imaging tech, like CT scans or AR, more valuable than ever to surgeons who can’t physically peer inside their patients.

“Since we no longer do open spine surgery, we depend on imaging and image quality,” said Andreas Seekamp, a medical professor at the University of Schleswig-Holstein, according to a press release.

That’s why the new tech uses 3D X-ray and optical imaging to provide surgeons with an “augmented reality view of the inside and outside of a patient.”

Dr. Skúlason of the Landspitali University Hospital in Iceland describes how the technology works:

“This new technology allows us to intraoperatively make a high-resolution 3D image of the patient’s spine, plan the optimal device path, and subsequently place pedicle screws using the system’s fully-automatic augmented-reality navigation. We can also check the overall result in 3D in the OR without the need to move the patient to a CT scanner. And all this can be done without any radiation exposure to the surgeon and with minimal dose to the patient.”

And according to a study published in SPINE, the AR tech had better overall accuracy than conventional “free-hand” techniques, with 85 percent accuracy versus 64 percent.

Philips AR Operating Room

More than 750 hybrid operating rooms (ORs) by Philips are installed across the globe, and the company plans to initially provide ORs with the new AR capability to 10 locations.

Seekamp also said he was surprised by how quickly the operation was completed in the hybrid OR using the AR tech.

“I had expected the operations to take a little longer in the hybrid OR, but in fact just the opposite is true,” Seekamp said, according to the press release.

AR and virtual reality are seeing continued applications in surgery. As VRScout previously reported, the first surgery to be live streamed in VR happened last year in April and VR apps are also helping prepare surgeons for operations.

You can see one of Philips’s hybrid ORs in Germany below.

Image Credit: Philips

About the Scout

Dieter Holger

Dieter is a technology journalist reporting for VRScout out of London. Send tips to and follow him on Twitter @dieterholger.

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