Microsoft redefines healthcare education with mixed reality

Mixed reality is expected to enhance the way things are done in the future. Currently, most research and development are done physically. This includes designing new prototypes, understanding human anatomy, and such.

The metaverse, which was unveiled last year, is a primary example of how mixed reality may look like in the future. Expected to break the barriers of what defines reality, more companies have announced interest and investments in the metaverse, including several businesses in Southeast Asia.

Mixed reality works by merging both real and virtual worlds to produce environments and visualizations. But in order to fully experience mixed reality, wearables will be a key enabler. For example, smart glasses, haptic gloves, and haptic suits are some of the wearable techs that are being developed to enable users a have a more realistic experience in the metaverse.

In Southeast Asia, the manufacturing industry has already been exposed to augmented reality through smart goggles. In some verticals, digital twin technology is being embraced for better equipment management, maintenance, and such.

The healthcare industry, which often makes the most of emerging technologies is now hoping to make the most out of mixed reality as well. The National University of Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine has just announced a collaboration with Microsoft and the National University Health System to use three-dimensional holographic technology to learn certain medical procedures and study anatomical structures.

The mixed reality learning experience, named Project Polaris is expected to commence in April 2022. Through holographic technology, medical and nursing undergraduates can expect to better hone their skills through training enabled by the Microsoft HoloLens 2. This progressive use of mixed reality in healthcare education stems from Microsoft’s work with the National University Health System, which is embarking on Holomedicine research in Singapore intending to enhance patient care.

Enabling mixed reality practices 

Unlike science fiction films, Project Polaris will enable medical and nursing students to have a visual appreciation of actual clinical scenarios in practice. The suite of instructional software was developed by the team from NUS Medicine and Microsoft Industry Solutions. It provides 3D, mixed reality technology that will be used to help students practice clinical procedural skills such as inserting a cannula, as well as inserting catheters in male and female urinary tracts.

According to the School’s Assistant Dean for Education and co-project lead, Associate Professor Alfred Kow, Project Polaris comes with three levels of difficulty, to train and provide sufficient direction to allow students at varying levels of competence to achieve the highest standards of clinical practice in a safe space.

“With the ongoing pandemic, virtual reality and mixed reality have been identified as a must-have tool for teaching and learning at onsite and remote environments,” he added.

“From delivering better healthcare experiences at the frontlines to helping neurosurgeons keep patients better informed of what could happen during their surgeries, technology has been an empowering tool for healthcare workers as they protect and save the lives of patients,” said Richard Koh, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Singapore.

Koh also pointed out that NUS Medicine is in a unique position to use mixed reality solutions and the Microsoft HoloLens 2 to aid in the transformation of healthcare education, for years to come.

Project Polaris is part of a larger program called Project Horizon, which consists of more initiatives like Project Delphinus and Project Mira. These aim to train students in clinical soft skills and clinical anatomy respectively, positioning NUS Medicine as the first in Southeast Asia to introduce holographic mixed reality as a teaching tool to train medical and nursing students.

Both Microsoft and NUS Medicine hope to pave the way for the development of a niche technological competency, in which clinical training tools can be developed to introduce realistic clinical scenarios for use in medical education.

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