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Here’s how surgeons in the Middle East are collaborating to rehearse procedures in the metaverse

Simulations and real-time data flow via virtual channels help surgeons prepare for unexpected challenges during complex procedures.

Here’s how surgeons in the Middle East are collaborating to rehearse procedures in the metaverse
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Dr Ahmed Habib is careful with the scapel and he prepares for what seems to be a complicated surgery. But the good news is that he is joined by several experts and consultants virtually. What’s more, he gets to rehearse the procedure several times before even getting to the surgery room. 

The post-pandemic world has adapted to remote consultations as doctors view a patient’s history online. ending e-prescriptions, which are then used for ordering medication via apps. Everything from routine checkups to follow-ups on a patient’s progress is now possible virtually.

Telemedicine reduced pressure on the UAE’s hospitals by connecting patients and doctors via video calls. During the pandemic, people who were isolated at home were monitored remotely, leaving space for those who needed hospitalization. Neighboring countries like Bahrain had deployed robots to care for quarantined patients early on in the pandemic.

Med-tech also facilitates contactless monitoring of pregnant women with Covid-19 in the Middle East. The hand-held device by PulseNmore allows patients to conduct ultrasound tests on themselves at home. The gadget is connected to a smartphone and sends images from the scan to doctors for examination.

Another startup, MyHomeDoc, has created a med-tech device that conducts nine full-body checkups. The sensor checks vital signs and relays information, including pulse rate, oxygen levels, and temperature. 

The gadget protects the elderly and those with chronic ailments by preventing frequent hospital visits.

But can medical interventions that require precision, such as surgeries, be conducted remotely? More importantly, would you trust a machine or someone with VR headsets to make incisions on your body? 

We should consider all possibilities because tech-assisted medical procedures are arriving thick and fast.

EVOLUTION OF HEALTHCARE 

Even after remote consultations surged as a necessity during the pandemic, med-tech may be in its infancy. But a significant amount of patients surveyed in the UAE are open to AI monitoring their hearts. A similar number of people were also comfortable with robots collecting blood samples and providing care. This optimism toward med-tech inspired doctors to use VR headsets for surgeries.

Tested in Abu Dhabi last year, Microsoft’s HoloLens provides patient data to surgeons as they conduct procedures. A 3D replica of the patient’s body and organs assists in planning during the surgery. Everything is done precisely through the holographic image, from making incisions to inserting instruments.

Pathologists can remotely look at body tissue through the surgeon’s eyes via HoloLens, for inputs during the operation. Experts from any part of the world can assist doctors in the operating room through this device. The device also displays relevant information about the previous diagnosis, including recent patient scans.

OPENING OPERATION THEATERS FOR GLOBAL COLLABORATIONS   

The UAE is a hub for medical tourism and tech adoption in the Middle East, with digitized records and smart hospitals. Its surgeons explored the capacity of virtual reality surgeries by collaborating with global peers. They used HoloLens devices, allowing experts from 13 countries to assist with a procedure in the UAE. The 365 Remote Assist app relayed visuals from the operation theatre to doctors from countries like the US, UK, and Germany.

The team of 15 collaborated using holograms depicting the patient’s anatomy and interactive tutorials available in real-time. A system called Surgical Theatre uses similar tech for pre-procedure planning. Developed by ex-air force officers, it creates 3D visualizations showing patients and families how surgeries will be performed. Surgeons can dive into a digital brain replica to figure out how to plan procedures with accuracy.

“Obviously, it needs connectivity, that’s the basic requirement to do remote collaborative work. A lot of technology can now work on low bandwidth,” says Dr Shafi Ahmed, surgeon and founder of London-based Medical Realities, about the potential of VR surgeries to help healthcare in remote regions. “You can now  do telementoring, or train remotely using low latency.”

TELEPORTING THROUGH THE METAVERSE

There’s no better way to learn about medical procedures or provide inputs than being present in the operation theatre. Dr Ahmed attracted global attention by live-streaming his surgeries. He demonstrated digital tech in healthcare from the UK during Arab Health in January this year.

Describing the importance of making the patient feel comfortable, surgeon Dr Ahmed, who had also spoken at Arab Health, says, “It’s not just the patient you take consent from the wider family to show that they’re on board. Sometimes, you might need multiple consents to make sure they understand, and they can re-consent for you.”

The UAE’s Thumbay Group of hospitals combines AR and VR to enhance the training of medical students. Budding doctors can look at human anatomy and surgeries using virtual reality headsets.

The ministry of health in the UAE has unlocked a metaverse for people to pay medical bills and receive information on treatment. Scientists in the region have developed a VR platform to detect flaws in care at intensive care units. It uses a simulation to highlight doctors’ errors and biases and provide real-time feedback.

Speaking about VR surgeries conducted as holograms, Dr Ahmed says that they “aren’t just doing this to prove the technology; it’s showing that there is value for this. You prove the value, make sure you validate it properly and then write it up so that people understand what we’re trying to do professionally and scientifically.”

Eye surgeons who combined AR with 3D printing blurred the lines between virtual and physical reality. An eye socket was 3D printed on titanium using scans, and a holograph was used to place it under the eye.

So far, robotic arms have also been introduced in the med-tech universe for remote surgeries. But the metaverse and VR headsets allow surgeons to rehearse procedures before entering operation theaters. 

In the future, if surgeries don’t go as planned due to complications, doctors can look at data via VR devices and improvise during the procedure. Medical students can enter operation theaters through the metaverse, without causing a disturbance.

This also raises concerns about data privacy, which Dr Ahmed highlights the importance of being “very sensitive about not showing any identifiable data.” He adds that, regarding permission from relevant authorities, “you have to have a buy-in from all the stakeholders and senior members to ensure that we’re on the same page.”

Digital models will allow doctors to explain surgeries more effectively and reassure patients of the utmost safety.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aiyub Dawood is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East, who looks for practical application of technology. He explores the use of AI, innovation and data to solve everyday problems. More

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