Technology disruption and innovation in Internet of Things, wearables, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and big data technologies and are making a significant impact on medical imaging and advance healthcare.

It’s true that the technological advancements are mainly driven by the entertainment and gaming industry, but the healthcare industry, especially medical imaging, is not far behind. The healthcare industry is following the trend to build virtual reality applications with the potential to drastically revolutionize medical imaging in several ways.

Wearable devices have truly come of age. As of now, this technology is still in budding stages, but experts in the field strongly believe that there will be significant developments in radiology and predictive healthcare in the near future. It will transform the way in which, radiology will be practiced in future.

Emerging Technology with the Potential to Transform Radiology Practice

From diagnosis via wearable devices to moving radiology robots, medical imaging has a smart future. Wearable technology could transform the radiology practice. Tools like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Google Glass could be valuable for several radiology applications.

For instance, a research has showed that HoloLens can be used for seeing holograms and could add details to an image-directed intervention. Furthermore, Google Glass can show the field of view when an ultrasound scan is done. Such devices could foster association among radiologists, referring physicians, and other associates.

Wearable technology is an emerging technology that has the potential to change the way in which, interventional radiology and diagnostics are practiced today. Potential Applications of Wearables in Medical Imaging

Wearable devices could find applications in image guided intervention, diagnostic radiology, and education.

  • Image-Guided Intervention

With respect to image-guided intervention, a wearable device based on augmented reality would let the radiologist to consider all the accessible data points (for instance, from MRIs and CTs) and make a hologram, which can later be placed on the body of the patient during the procedure.

In other words, a catheter or needle can be inserted into a patient and a procedure can be done with the help of image guidance from an earlier scan in a holographic projection.

Since access to these details is mostly limited when performing a procedure, a surgeon may need to walk a little away from the patient to see an image. However, if the surgeon has access to a wearable device, he could get access to all the necessary information – it could be anything from a prior scan or lab report to prior medical notes or anatomy – in his field of vision. All the details could be at the fingertips of a surgeon without the need to leave the patient.

  • Diagnostic Radiology

There are several diagnostic radiology applications for wearables, including of the use of these devices to see as many virtual images as needed in their own field of vision. This enables the medical professionals to personalize patient care with great flexibility.

Augmented reality wearables also let radiologists to see good quality images or reports on a screen even when they are not at their workplace. For instance, if a radiologist is trying to read something on a laptop or an iPad, a headset can help him see images across a field with limitless view.

All these give the potential to integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence into planning the course of treatment.

  • Education

Wearable technology could be of immense use to radiology students. Wearable optical gadgets create holograms (3-Dimensional image), which the user can keep in one location while moving around in real time. With 3D images, radiology students can walk across and see the anatomy from different angles, thus proving to be of great assistance in the process of learning.

Preventive Healthcare: Due to rapid ageing in advanced economies and shrinking population, the medical insurance companies are pushing for preventive healthcare by constantly monitoring various health parameters to detect signs of illness using wearables such as wearbale bands for blood pressure, pulse monitoring and other biological parameters, ECG, wireless hearing aids etc.

Limitations of Wearables

Wearables have a few limitations, though. Most of them are associated with the development of augmented reality technology and not much to do with its applications in radiology.

  • Combining the optical display features of the device with the software for segmenting, registering and streaming real time data will be crucial.
  • Image resolution is also still in the early phases and so high definition, sharp images cannot be expected as of now.
  • Since the wearables for radiology weigh a lot and the refresh rates are slow, the procedures might take long time.
  • Accuracy of data –The data has proven to be erratic
  • Wearables contain sensors (e.g. optical sensors) that need to be worn tightly on body causing itchiness or inconveniences
  • Prone to cybersecurity vulnerability and data hacking

All these mean that there’s a fair bit of learning curve ahead. However, this learning curve can be outweighed once the radiologists realize the immense benefits of wearables in the field of medical imaging.

Summing up, it’d be safe to state that innovation is crucial to the future of medical field and with radiology having a rich history of great innovations we can expect to see a lot happening in wearables for medical imaging, which in turn, will shape its future.

Written by Jithendran A

on 30 Nov 2017

Jithendran A, is currently working as a principal architect supporting delivery team associated with medical devices and healthcare domain unit at Quest Global. He has over 20 years of experience in the embedded systems for product engineering in medical, semiconductor and hi-tech domains and has engineered solutions for outsourced R&D engineering services to global customers. –Jithendran, who is conversant with CMM and ISO-9001 software standards, holds a B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering form University of Calicut.