From precision robotic surgery to mechanical super-suits to help the disabled walk, healthcare innovation is nothing new.
Now, the latest development in virtual reality headsets is helping surgeons speed up procedures, in a safer environment with quicker patient recovery times.
Orthopaedic surgeons at Burjeel Medical City have trialled immersive augmented reality during operations, to gain real time access to patient records and global expertise.
The latest HoloLens 2 headset produced by Microsoft is the latest step in health-tech, and promises to transform the way surgeons complete their work.
“HoloLens is an advanced technology that gives augmented and assisted reality through a headset,” said Dr Rashed Al Shaeel, head of Orthopaedics at BMC.
“This device gives us all the information on a patient, and plans for the surgery, such as where the incision and instruments should go.
“It is like a surgical sat-nav and you can move multiple images in front of you to assist surgery.
“If you want to do a biopsy or ask a pathologist to check body tissue, he can see exactly what I see through my eyes.
“It means specialists anywhere in the world can look at what I’m doing in real time.”
In January, a 61-year-old Emirati became the first patient in the UAE to benefit from the technology, when surgeons used augmented reality headsets during his knee replacement.
Doctors in Abu Dhabi have since used the device to perform shoulder surgery, and a global demonstration on February 9 will enable medics from around the world to take part in a live operation.
The device allows surgeons to access patient records such as recent scans or other diagnostics, and to simultaneously share information with other specialists around the world.
“Another bonus is preparing the patient for surgery by showing him exactly what we will be doing,” said Dr Al Shaeel.
“We can also record the surgery to use for teaching other doctors in the future.
"Students can see exactly what we are doing and can interact via another HoloLens.
"The surgery is faster - the time is less because you have access to all the information such as detail on a biopsy for example.
“It also increases the sterility for the surgery as you need less equipment in theatre.
“It is minimally invasive so there is usually a smaller scar too, and usually faster recovery.”
A 2020 report by industry analysts Frost & Sullivan showed GCC countries now represent 13 per cent of global revenues for healthcare products, with services growing at 12 per cent.
Analysts found a rising demand for better healthcare services in the region, plus global advancements in medical technologies have created numerous opportunities for information technology (IT) organisations to tap into the emerging market.
Virtual reality in surgery is fast becoming the gold standard in healthcare.
As well as VR headsets to access patient information and 3D imagery, surgeons also have access to haptic gloves to mimic the feel of real surgical procedures and improve efficiency in theatre.
As well as the Microsoft HoloLens, other similar products are enabling doctors to access to the latest tech.
A built-in artificial intelligence platform with the ProPrio visual computer analyses 3D renderings of a patient and shares surgical data in real time.
It is currently in use by neurosurgeons in hospitals like Seattle Children’s and University of Washington Medicine.
Other innovations such as Immersive Touch uses the Oculus Rift headset, and allows surgeons to use a number of appliances, like the cut, draw and measure tools, that emulate a real procedure.
Doctors are already using it at the Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago and University of Texas hospitals.
Surgeons expect the AI technology to become as common as X-rays and CT scans in the coming years.
“There are other devices with the same technology, but this is the first we have used that has been adapted for the medical sector,” said Dr Jaber AlKhyeli, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at BMC.
“As more companies and devices become available, the more widespread this will be in the medical industry.”