As neurosurgeons, our highest priority is to keep our patients safe.

John H. Shin, MD
Department of Neurosurgery, Massachusetts General Hospital

For the first time in New England, a neurosurgical team led by John H. Shin, MD, Kingdon-Saylor Endowed Chair in Spine Neurosurgery and Director of Spinal Deformity and Oncology Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), has introduced augmented reality (AR) technology into the operating room when performing spine surgery. This novel technology can make complex surgery safer and more accurate by improving surgeons' visualization of anatomy and critical structures.

Surgeon's view with augmented reality

AR is defined as technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world. This allows the indvidual to attain an enhanced view of natural environments or situations with information not typically seen with the naked eye. Neurosurgeons are now turning to AR technology to improve patient outcomes by increasing the accuracy of spinal instrumentation placement so that executed surgical plans match the pre-operative plans discussed with each patient.

When using AR, neurosurgeons wear headsets that provide computer-generated images of CT scans into their eyepieces, displaying information superimposed over the physical reality of the procedure in real-time. Similar to GPS navigation, this technology displays computer-based surgical navigation guidance into the surgeons' visual field so that surgeons can keep their eyes and hands in the field.

"Our spine surgeons here at MGH Neurosurgery are really excited about offering this technology to patients. When performing spine surgery, we are typically working within millimeters of critical structures such as the spinal cord, nerves, and blood vessels," says Shin. "Whether for minimally invasive or complex reconstruction surgeries, the stakes are extremely high. This technology not only helps us plan and perform these surgeries, but also helps ensure accuracy while minimizing surgical risks and complications. As neurosurgeons, our highest priority is to keep our patients safe."

Using AR technology in neurosurgery also enhances educational opportunities for neurosurgical trainees. "Incorporating advanced technologies such as AR into our residency and fellowship programs is critical to driving innovation in our field and training future leaders in spine surgery," he added.