Metro Health in Wyoming, Mich., an affiliate of Michigan Medicine, is the first hospital in the state to offer augmented reality spine surgery. The hospital, located near Grand Rapids, Mich., is one of five in the country to use this new technology for spine surgery. The technology was first used on a spinal surgery patient on Sept. 21. 

According to Metro Health’s official press release statement, AR surgery enables surgeons to focus more on the patient than a normal surgery would. 

“The xvision Spine System is different from other image guidance systems, as it allows surgeons to maintain their focus directly on the patient, rather than searching for a distant screen displaying the patient’s anatomy,” the release reads.

John Keller, neurosurgery section chief at Metro Health, said the technology mimics advanced military technology. 

“It utilizes a heads up retina display similar to military fighter jet technology allowing the surgeon to visualize the patient’s anatomy through the skin as if they have x-ray vision,” Keller said in the press release.

Ronald Grifka, chief medical officer of Metro Health, said AR allows surgeons to view how they insert plates and screws into the spine, ensuring the best alignment and outcomes for patients. 

“It can then send that information to the headset, and it displays on the glasses an image of the spine,” Grifka said. “But they actually see the screen going into the spine. You can adjust the angle, the depth, the pressure, etc.” 

Medical School student Andrew Shute said he finds this new technology particularly exciting because of AR’s potential to drastically affect medicine.

“I see the benefits. (Surgeons) can see where their instruments are in real-time relative to CT scans, which cuts down on a lot of back and forth between images,” Shute said. “It makes the surgery a lot more precise and tailored to the patient.” 

Grifka said he thinks AR will be the future of surgery. 

“I suspect a lot of surgery will be heading in this direction,” Grifka said. “It’s going to take several years for it to really… be used in many institutions because it does require some advanced imaging.”  

Shute said AR is just the tip of the iceberg of exploring the depths of technology’s impact on medicine. 

“It just shows that technology is definitely having a huge impact on medicine,” Shute said. “Medicine transforms as those technologies advance. Machine learning, augmented reality, or any new technologies that change the way we look at things and do procedures. It’s a really exciting time to be a medical student.” 

Contributor Nina Molina can be reached at nimolina@umich.edu.

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