Making mixed reality a surgical reality

February 8, 2023
Failing early and design-led thinking: how CTO Jahn Otto Andersen is ensuring our technology brings a new dimension to surgery.

We are revolutionising medical imaging. By converting traditional 2D CT and MRI images to interactive 3D holograms, we are making it easier for surgeons to visualise critical anatomical organ features, allowing them to plan smarter and safer surgeries, and reduce the risks of complications.

Jahn Otto - HoloCare CTO

Jahn Otto Andersen, our Chief Technology Officer, joined us from a background in chemical engineering specialising in 3D computer visualisation and simulation in the oil and gas industry. Despite his non-traditional background, he has found many similarities between data visualisation in oil and gas and developing virtual and mixed reality software for healthcare. Whether using oil reservoir data or CT scan data, the mathematics and statistics of visualisation to observe critical structures are the same.

Despite a heavy focus on engineering and tech-savviness in previous roles, Jahn Otto quickly realised the importance of user-centred design and experience in building virtual reality products for healthcare. 

Technically thinking 

Although perfection is often prized in technology, Jahn Otto takes a "fail early" approach –  coined by Google to create a minimum viable product and gain user feedback as quickly as possible. By failing early, we get feedback faster and develop multiple iterations at any one time, which ultimately allows us to perfect the solution for our end users in advance of it being used in real-life surgical practice.

This approach lead us to devise an innovative way to create 3D images from 2D scans. Each CT scan is a unique fingerprint of a person's anatomy, and by using a process called segmentation, critical structures surrounding an organ can be identified. Typically, segmentation is a labour-intensive, manual process and therefore remains a significant bottleneck for hospitals that use 3D imaging. To solve this problem, we use AI-driven solutions to automate segmentation, creating and quicker more efficient process.

Using our 3D holographic software solution – paired with a Hololens – surgeons have a better spatial understanding of critical anatomical structures to create more precise surgical plans for complex procedures. Clinicians can also see patient’s anatomy in immersive 3D images. When looking at 2D images, multidisciplinary teams can often form their own perspectives of critical anatomical features. By enabling surgeons to virtually point, accurately measure and rotate the medical hologram no matter where they are in the world, we allow everyone in the multidisciplinary team to share the same view, improving collaboration, medical education, and reducing delays.

Navigating the barriers to healthcare innovation

Bringing healthcare devices to market has its challenges. Firstly, gaining medical device regulation is a complex and lengthy process, which, despite being important, means it can often be perceived as a barrier to innovation that delays fast and iterative development. However, our medical regulatory experts work closely alongside the product development team, so when we do try or test something new, we are confident that it will be fully compliant with regulations.

Secondly, once you have an approved solution, adoption by end-users is crucial. Experienced surgeons can be reluctant to adopt medical mixed reality technology, as they are used to existing care pathways and broadly working without much input from technology. We’ve mitigated this by adopting a design-first approach, involving collaboration with our end-users early on. This means we can be sure that our surgical planning tool alleviates the precise challenges surgeons face, is easy to use, and can be seamlessly integrated into existing workflows to improve efficiency. 

Designing medical mixed reality

We don’t want to just create technology. We’re creating technology to directly impact lives by making surgery safer. These challenges make the design process even more critical. We rely on "design thinking" and our designers understand how people interact with machines. Therefore,  our technology team and designers work together very closely from the earliest stages of  product development to make the process seamless and intuitive for first-time users of holographic technology, which ultimately helps successful adoption across hospitals.

Jarl Erik Cedergren & Joakim Qvale - HoloCare UX designers

The technical revolution of surgical care

Jahn Otto predicts the future of surgery will rely heavily on robotics. The DaVinci robot has been very popular in supporting surgeons in delicate microsurgeries, improving accuracy and efficiency of procedures. Although it may be many years until we see fully autonomous robotic surgery, technology integration will only help to reduce the risk and uncertainties of surgical procedures. 

Mixed reality is at the frontier of technology development. We have seen it transform the gaming industry and there are many unique opportunities for its application in healthcare both within and outside of the operating room. As holographic technology develops further we are excited to pioneer how the digital and real-world intersect for smarter and safer surgeries.