Making the most out of mixed reality

Phil Moore at Insight UK provides insights from the way that Alder Hey Hospital has adopted mixed reality technology to keep offering services remotely during the pandemic.

Adapting to the pandemic has driven many organisations to adopt new technology, or accelerate their existing plans, at a rapid pace. From adapting to remote working, to delivering services remotely, to minimising the risks of personal contact, we have seen a surge in innovation.

For instance, Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality have offered applications for remote working and collaboration for a number of years. But it has taken the pandemic for many to accelerate adoption.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital – one of Europe’s biggest and busiest children’s hospitals – is one organisation that used Microsoft HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist to keep offering essential services. These are the lessons from that project. 

Have a clear business case

Alder Hey’s aim was simple: to reduce physical contact between hospital staff, patients and visitors. HoloLens 2 would allow clinicians to:

  • consult medical experts without them needing to be present;
  • perform virtual ward rounds without needing multiple staff by the patient bedside; and
  • demonstrate procedures to medical trainees without being in the same room.

With the risk of not only Covid-19, but other potential infections such as MRSA, any project that could lower the risk of spreading infections was immediately attractive.

Don’t be afraid to start small

Alder Hey’s use of HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist began with just two clinicians: Mr. Rafael Guerrero, Clinical Director of Innovation and Chief of Congenital Cardiac Surgery; and Paediatric Cardiology Consultant Dr. Phuoc Duong.

Despite this small start, Mr. Guerrero and Dr. Duong could immediately see benefits. Instead of needing multiple specialists during ward rounds, a single clinician could conduct the round wearing a HoloLens 2. Other specialists could communicate with audio and video, while seeing exactly what the clinician saw.

Similarly, in the operating theatre clinicians could consult with one another without needing to meet face to face or interrupt the procedure. Mr. Guerrero did this when performing a complex repair on a heart no bigger than the size of a strawberry, transmitting a live view of the heart to other colleagues as well as reviewing the echocardiogram at the same time.

Finally, the ability to share images directly into the HoloLens 2 field of view meant Dr. Duong could share a 3D model with a colleague so they could ensure a tiny stent was precisely placed within the blood vessel of a small child. Mr. Gurrero and Dr. Duong showed that a project doesn’t need to be large-scale to produce results. A limited proof of concept can still have a significant effect, and demonstrate the validity of a larger implementation.

Make sure the organisation can support the project

Introducing new technology, such as Mixed Reality, places new demands on organisations. For instance, Alder Hey’s use cases demanded a reliable, high-speed network connection so that users could share and receive high-quality images and video in real time.

At the same time, any new mixed reality implementation will generate and record new data; from images and video, to messages. As with any other sensitive data, this needs to be protected; whether by ensuring it is secure, or deleting immediately after it’s collected.

As an established children’s hospital Alder Hey had the network, and the security and data protection policies, in place to ensure it could begin using HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist effectively without putting patient privacy or data at risk. However, other organisations might need to review their capabilities and policies to ensure they’re up to the task.

Get technology in end users’ hands

Ultimately, Mixed Reality is most valuable when it’s in the hands of the teacher, engineer or doctor who will benefit from sharing their view or receiving information straight into their line of sight. This means ensuring a streamlined process where end users can begin using technology as soon as possible.

At Alder Hey, Insight worked directly with the hospital’s IT team to guide Mr. Guerrero and Dr. Duong through the features and functionality of HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist. They were taken through setting up user accounts and assigning roles, connecting securely to the network, and their first few Remote Assist calls with the devices. A short while after unboxing, the technology was in use on the wards and operating theatres where it could start showing its value.

Don’t stop innovating

While more clinicians using more HoloLens 2 devices is a natural progression for Alder Hey, it is also looking beyond the hospital itself. For instance, Alder Hey is a centre of expertise for congenital heart treatment responsible for more than 8.5 million people across Wales, North-West England and the Isle of Man.

The hospital is investigating using HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist to support clinicians and patients both in other hospitals and in the community, without the need for travel in either direction. This helps the NHS treat patients and share expertise more efficiently to improve patient care.

Similar to other hospitals and organisations worldwide, the pandemic meant Alder Hey had to carefully consider how to deliver its services while minimising risks. Mixed Reality has been an essential part of that. Whether teaching remote classes, performing quality control on manufacturing lines on other continents, or maintaining critical infrastructure, there are multiple use cases that will benefit organisations across many different sectors.

Phil Moore is Public Sector Digital Innovation Lead at Insight UK

Main image courtesy of

© Business Reporter 2021

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