Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center hospital is bringing augmented reality (AR) training to its physicians. Using the Microsoft Hololens device, clinicians can keep an eye on the patient while also reviewing critical data on a wearable screen overlay. This includes not only patient vitals and lab results, but also real time ultrasound data (transmitted from an actual ultrasound transducer) onto a headmounted display. This was demonstrated in a recent write-up by The Baltimore Sun that featured one of Shock Trauma’s surgeons wearing the Hololens while performing a bedside ultrasound of the heart on a volunteer student. They are collaborating with the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies to better develop their program, and plan to include medical student education through it as well.

Augmented reality places virtual objects on a screen that also shows a feed from the real world. Perhaps the easiest way to picture AR is to think of glasses that a user wears, allowing them to see everything truly around them, but also with computer-generated data and images scrolling across the glasses, providing more information and “augmenting” the view. This is different from virtual reality (VR), where a user only sees a view of a virtual environment. While VR has received considerable attention in healthcare, AR has remained much less studied.

Having tried out Hololens at a recent VR/AR conference, I’m optimistic about the role it may play for clinicians. The field of view is considerably narrower than what I have grown used to in VR, but it still offers an engaging experience. Google Glass offered considerable potential (even having an EMR scribe system built around it), but the device doesn’t appear to readily available anytime soon. With Hololens already being utilized in healthcare education by institutions such as Case-Western (including the release of an anatomy training app), it may be the next contender for serious medical AR.