We live during strange and exciting times in which the digital world and real world are colliding. The rapid pace of technological change can sometimes be mind boggling and predicting its ultimate impact on our daily lives can be challenging for even the most skilled futurists.
Many fields are being impacted by what’s often referred to as The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 (I4), or smart manufacturing. I4 combines 5G wireless, manufacturing automation, 3D printing, the internet of things (IoT), as well as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Surprisingly, these innovations are not only disrupting manufacturing, they’re also bringing groundbreaking changes to healthcare and medicine as well. While much of the discussion relates to how providers will use advanced solutions for things such as staff training and diagnosis, these technologies will also play a role in the work of those who service and repair medical devices. For imaging engineers, that means the use of AR and VR will steadily become an integral part of their job.
The Current State of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Medical Imaging
Simply stated, AR augments the world around you with a visual overlay of imagery and/or data, like the heads-up display (HUD) used by military fighter pilots, the characters in the game Pokémon GO, or the futuristic technology used in this scene from Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, is an immersive digital simulation using VR headsets, or specially outfitted rooms called CAVEs (Cave Automatic Virtual Environments), to put the user in a completely different environment. Another Steven Spielberg movie, Ready Player One, shows the incredible potential of this rapidly evolving technology.
But what does this all mean for the healthcare community and the people who keep medical imaging systems and other equipment up and running?
Recent research published in the journal Radiology examined how AR and VR could affect medical imaging through communication, interventional procedures, and most of all, training. According to the article, VR and AR training in radiology “is associated with a higher level of active learner participation, owing to increased social, environmental, and personal presence within the learning activity.”
A 2019 article in Imaging Technology News echoes this sentiment, particularly in regard to AR, saying, “augmented reality holds a big potential for revolutionizing medical education for radiologists and pathologists.
Just as AR and VR can be used as a training aid for doctors and radiologists, it can also provide ongoing educational opportunities for imaging engineers. These systems can allow them to learn how to evaluate, service, and repair MRI, CT, and X-ray equipment without needing direct, hands-on access to an expensive system.
Another area where this technology will become prevalent for imaging engineers is technical support. In many fields like automotive service and industrial maintenance, its use is already widespread.
To better understand how this would work in the world of medical imaging, imagine an MRI system’s user manual in the form of an AR app on a smartphone. An engineer could hold up their phone in front of the imaging equipment to view an overlay of schematics to help them identify a problematic part that needs to be replaced.
In another scenario, envision a field service engineer (FSE) who needs help troubleshooting a particularly challenging issue. By tapping an onscreen button on his smartphone, he’s immediately connected with a technical support specialist. Both the FSE and the support specialist view the equipment via the phone, having the same interactive experience and allowing tech support to provide detailed guidance while the FSE performs repairs.
The experience could be further enhanced by using AR glasses instead of a smartphone. In addition to freeing up both hands, it would allow tech support to see what the engineer is viewing, provide graphic overlays of information, and monitor progress.
An article on AR/VR Journey sums up the AR tech support experience like this:
“AR is perfect for delivering real-time customer support. It allows the agent to guide the customer through a process with visual assistance, eliminating the biggest problem that exists — miscommunication. With AR, the agent can introduce and share virtual elements by adding markups to the image the customer sees as well as overlaying parts of the device in the proper place with the right instructions. Guidance becomes visual and therefore more effective as if the agent was right beside the customer showing him in real life.”
Our Take on AR and VR in Medical Imaging Today
Medical imaging engineers who service and repair MRI, CT, and X-ray systems will not have to wait long to experience AR in their work – if they haven’t seen it already. Some system manufactures, like Siemens, have already created augmented reality training resources and have been impressed with the results.
For example, in a research study by Capgemini, Dr. Gunter Beitinger, VP of Manufacturing at Siemens, says that “AR enables … employees to inspect circuit boards by augmenting their view and calling attention to various elements they could have missed.” The result is “an improvement in quality on the scale of 20–25%.”
Impressive numbers like that are why DirectMed Imaging embraces any technology that can improve the speed, quality, and convenience of medical imaging system maintenance and repair. It’s why we created our Interactive Virtual Training Academy (IVTA) as part of our “build-from-within” 360° Solution. The IVTA uses cutting edge technology to provide an alternative to in-person training. It allows BMETs and other imaging professionals to receive the same high-quality, ACI-certified training they’d receive at our Wisconsin training center without ever leaving their office.
As AR and VR technology continues to mature, we’ll integrate it into our support, training, and parts services as well, but only when it makes sense. Our goal is to help you find ways to save money, reduce system downtime, and ultimately improve patient care. Expect to hear more about this in the coming months.
No matter what the latest trend or technology may bring, you can trust DirectMed Imaging to provide reliability at the moment of truth, along with a level of flexibility, independence, and cost savings that isn’t available anywhere else. Contact us today and let us know how we can help you succeed with today’s technology.