Learning anatomy with augmented reality

Practicing human anatomy in AR is getting increasingly widespread in medical colleges. Instead of physical cadavers or plastic models, students can see the human body in augmented reality.

Moreover, AR apps can show the parts and organs in motion, so that the students see how they work.

When AR is used for anatomy studies, it can have several formats:

  • Displaying supportive information over physical models or text. A plastic skeleton can be supplied with QR codes or other markers triggering AR text containing bone names, characteristics, functions, and other relevant data.

A picture of a human heart enabled with an AR marker can produce an animated 3D model of the same heart showing how it beats in augmented reality.

  • Displaying 3D models triggered by markers. In AR, medical students can see, for example, a human skull with all its individual bones. Depending on the complexity of the AR app, the 3D model can be animated or interactive.

For example, students can “remove” bones and study them from all angles or see inside the body. Such AR apps can recreate whole bodies where each part or organ can be interacted with.

With AR, learning anatomy becomes considerably easier and more effective.
For medical schools, getting an AR app may be less expensive than providing their students with enough models, specimens, and cadavers.
For the students, learning with AR ensures a higher degree of flexibility, as they can have their “labs” almost anywhere and at any time.

Any exercise can be repeated in AR as many times as needed ensuring the highest degree of knowledge.

Practicing surgery with augmented reality

For surgeons, practice is extremely important. A lot depends on the precision of movements and the “muscle memory”. At the same time, arranging a surgical practice can be rather difficult.
Practicing with real patients involves a high degree of risk and not all patients agree to it. Practicing on cadavers can, naturally, train the precision and fine movements, but cadavers cannot recreate the state of operating on a living body.
Here, augmented reality can do the trick. By overlaying the animated image on a manikin, the AR application creates the impression of performing surgery on a living organism.
While providing a realistic experience, such practice poses no risk for patients.
AR apps using special headsets, such as Microsoft Hololens, are a great learning tool for young surgeons.
With different scenarios, students can practice different surgeries and other procedures in augmented reality and see how the virtual “patient” responds to their actions.
With augmented reality, students can learn from their errors in the literal meaning of the word without the fear that mistakes can cost their patients’ lives or health.
Naturally, each scenario can be repeated in AR as many times as needed for the student to become confident with their surgical skills.

Main benefits of AR in healthcare education

Our brief analysis of the possible use cases for AR in healthcare education shows the following benefits of using the augmented reality technology in this area:

  • Realistic experience. AR creates life-like virtual objects that give the most realistic impression of how the human body is built and how it functions.
  • Low risk and high safety. Training in augmented reality as compared with practicing on real patients involves much less risk for the patient, thus inspiring much higher confidence in the student.
  • Cost-effectiveness. While sophisticated AR apps can be rather expensive to build, their cost is relatively low in comparison with the cost of setting up anatomy theaters and providing cadavers and specimens for students to practice.
  • Higher efficiency. With AR apps, students can practice as much and as often as they find necessary. As opposed to practicing in laboratories where students have to rely on the schedule and on the availability of disposable materials, AR training can ensure better results in training the required skills.

Availability of expert assistance. Augmented reality apps can easily connect trainees or remote workers with mentors or experts who can provide instructions or assistance in real time.