Microsoft Hololens is an example of augmented reality (AR) created with the use of a special headset reminiscent of Cyclops’ from the X-Men. Where virtual reality (VR) merely simulates a three-dimensional (3D) image, AR allows the manipulation of the 3D image as well.
Indeed, this has been applied to create a tool that enhances learning for medical students – Hololens is able to project a life-size, accurate 3D model of a living human body, where the skin can be virtually peeled back to reveal the insides, which can then be highlighted and annotated for learning purposes.

Hololens could transform medical school

For aspiring doctors in medical school, anatomy class is a time-consuming, costly rite of passage, and it is usually where they meet (and disassemble) their very first patients – the cadavers, with their static tissue and organs.

Cadavers are without a doubt hugely helpful to the learning of anatomy, but often, there are tiny parts of the body that cannot be seen, even after dissection. There are also often concepts and functions of the human body that cannot easily be visualised in 3D.

Hololens aims to bridge this gap in learning by allowing users to see fully functioning, live organs and tissue in action. They can see, before their eyes, a heartbeat in action, and then observe it for signs of illness. They can even view, in great precision, how a brain would perceive and process information. Users can virtually extract a specific body part and then choose the best view to scrutinise it more closely.

By exposing students to a ‘living’ body, they can become more familiarised early on with the experiences they will eventually face in the operating room. Operating simulations could also be produced, allowing aspiring surgeons a relatively greater margin of error in a comparatively low-stress environment.

Limitless potential

The possibilities for Hololens applications are boundless, even in the field of medicine alone. For instance, it could dramatically reduce the chances of accidents in surgery, as surgical teams would now be allowed to prepare in advance for complicated procedures.

It could deeply enhance the quality of doctor-patient interactivity by giving patients a visual representation of doctors’ explanations. Other medical applications include telemedicine and remote monitoring, so that doctors can provide care for their patients at a distance with the aid of such health monitoring devices.

Early this August, Microsoft released its Hololens to the US and Canadian markets with a hefty price tag of $3,000 (RM12,080). Both the narrow accessibility and price of Hololens are factors that will affect its adoption and usage.

Moreover, an additional factor must be considered when contemplating the extent of its use – whether or not people have developed ways to effectively use it. For example, currently in medical education, the top priority for CWRU is to create a full digital anatomy curriculum to effectively utilise the new education aid.

This process is now in operation with the launch of the Health Education Campus. These include medical students, anatomy and radiology faculty. Although it will probably take a while before all schools start using Hololens as an education aid, CWRU has demonstrated that it is not an impossible notion. MIMS