Is 3-D Technology Headed to the Operating Room?

in medicine, 2-d imaging had long been the norm--just look at the traditional chest x-ray as but one example of that. nevertheless, there has been a gradual shift in medicine towards 3-d imaging, which his now used to assess everything from the heart's vasculature to the colon. in actuality, however, those images, while giving the illusion of three dimensions, are still viewed on a flat monitor.

technology that can accurately impart the sense of three dimensions, both with and without glasses, has advanced significantly recently, clearing the way for the technology to be applied to medicine. while physicians have been historically skeptical of the benefits of 3-d screens, a recent study, organized by the fraunhofer heinrich hertz institute (hhi; berlin) and klinikum rechts der isar university hospital (munich), demonstrated clear benefits for the technology, even among experienced physicians.

a surgeon practices suturing using a monitor rather than a direct view. in a fraunhofer study, 3-d screens were shown to make the procedure substantially more efficient.

the subjects tested four screen systems: 2-d, 3-d with and without glasses, as well as a mirror apparatus. an endoscopic camera delivered images in a simulated surgical procedure. the surgeons were required to sew ten stitches in a model abdominal cavity without viewing the screen rather than their hands. with the use of systems with 3-d glasses, the procedure was more than 15% shorter with substantially higher precision.

in the study, roughly 50 surgeons responded that they found 3-d technology --both with and without special glasses--helpful while operating. still, surgeons in the study expressed a preference for systems that offered 3-d viewing capability without the use of special glasses, which will likely be the wave of the future for 3-d screen technology.

the resolution of the systems is also set to expand. 4k ultra-high definition 3-d screen technology is already available for medical applications. michael witte of hhi states that 8k ultra-hd resolution will be the next breakthrough, marking a sixteen-fold increase in resolution over the current generation of hd. (somewhat related, an international research team is working on developing an imaging modality that can detect the magnetic resonance of organic molecules.)

the researchers plan on testing 3-technology in other medical specialties.

brian buntz is the editor-in-chief of mpmn. follow him on twitter at @brian_buntz

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