Augmented reality in the operating room: is it safer?

Written by: Professor Kavin Andi
Published: | Updated: 31/08/2023
Edited by: Karolyn Judge

Augmented reality (AR) in medicine is a technology that’s becoming more and more tangible. It’s capabilities mean that it can assist in surgery planning, patient treatment and helps to explain complex medical situations.

However, it may have disadvantages. Professor Kavin Andi, award-winning consultant oral and maxilio surgeon and head and neck surgeon asks: is AR safer?

3D figure of the body and it's respiratory system, while a tablet shows the figure with augmented reality features


What does augmented reality-assisted surgery involve?

AR surgery is an experimental technique in which visual information is presented to the surgeon during the surgical procedure. This can be as simple as parameters such as the patient’s heart rate and other physiological parameters, like a head-up display, to complex 3D information of the patients' anatomy which has been reconstructed from imaging in the form of CT, MRI, PET-CT or ultrasound scans.


What are the benefits of using AR?

AR or Vision-Assisted surgery as I prefer to call it, has the ability to present complex anatomical information in a way in which the surgeon is used to seeing in 3D.

Information which cannot be easily appreciated from 2D slices, such as the volume, proximity and spatial length, can assist the surgeon in deciding how much tissue to remove, where to remove it and how to reconstruct it. 

AR also has potential benefits for remote operating (international as well intergalactic!) as well as training, education and audit of surgical procedures.


Are there any disadvantages of using AR?

At the moment the technology is in its infancy with limited applications outside research or clinical trials. There are technological challenges related to real-time tracking and registration of the 3D data which are areas of research I am actively involved in.


Which procedures can currently be carried out with AR?

AR lends itself to robotic cancer surgery where, for example, a tumour can be highlighted using fluorescent stains to assist the surgeon with identification of the tumour margins.


Will we see AR becoming more widespread in surgery and when?

It is likely that visual assistance for medical procedures will become more widespread once the technological barriers have been solved over the next ten years with improvements in graphical processing and artificial intelligence.


How might AR change the future of surgery?

We may see greater incorporation of robots augmented with artificial intelligence carrying out ‘routine’ surgical procedures where the surgeon may be at risk.

For example, cardiac catheterization can be carried out safely using robotic techniques without exposing the surgeon to the additional radiation required for real-time imaging during the procedure.



If you’re looking for assistance regarding any queries you may have regarding oral and maxillofacial surgery, or head and neck surgery, visit Professor Andi’s Top Doctors profile here.

By Professor Kavin Andi
Oral & maxillofacial surgery

Professor Kavin Andi is an award-winning consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon and head and neck surgeon based in London who specialises in head and neck cancer.

Once his dual qualifications in medicine and dentistry had been completed at Bart’s and The London Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor Andi undertook his basic surgical training in Essex. He then went back to the London Deanery Higher Surgical Training Programme in Oral and Maxillofacial surgery at The Royal London Hospital, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Luton and Dunstable Hospital, University College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital.

He was ranked first among the highest level maxillofacial, ENT, and plastic surgeons in the UK by the joint committee for Higher Surgical Training following the reception of his FRCS award. This allowed Professor Andi to successfully complete a highly competitive Advanced Head and Neck Interface Training Fellowship at Guy’s Hospital. He did this in conjunction with a Fellowship of The Higher Education Academy award.

Professor Andi’s areas of interest include augmented reality, robotic surgery, and 3D virtual surgical planning, for which he was award the prestigious Norman Rowe Clinical Prize by the British Association of Oral and Maxillo-Facial Surgeons (2012). Among his interests and research, Professor Andi has also been published and has written original software on a variety of platforms which were user-friendly tools to collect data on clinical and outcomes research.

Other awards Professor Andi has been the recipient of the J.N. Kidd award from the Institute of Reconstructive Sciences (2016), a Clinical Excellence Award from St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (2015), the Annual College Prize in Clinical Dentistry awarded by the University of London (1997), and many more in between.

Carrying out pioneering research at St George's, University of London Medical School and Crandfield University Centre for Digital Engineering, Professor Andi was appointed as a Visiting Professor in 2020. In addition to being a faculty member of The London Deanery School of Surgery and Regional Speciality Advisor to The Royal College of Surgeons, he is a core member of the Head & Neck and Skin Cancer tumour boards and previous President of The Institute of Reconstructive Sciences.

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