A primer for VR and AR applications in orthopedics

Most people in orthopedics are still working with physical products – implants, instruments sets, disposables, robots, etc. But like it or not, we are moving from hardware-centric solutions into software-centric solutions. There will always be physical products in orthopedics, but they will become less relevant each year. Software products will become the differentiator with the high margins, as the physical products will become commodities with low margins.

This article is a primer for two specific areas of software technology – Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Both VR and AR technologies have tremendous opportunities in orthopedics. However they are completely different technologies with different advantages.
Let’s compare and contrast.


Think of VR as a fake world.

VR completely shuts out reality and puts the user into another world.

I believe that VR is best suited for training applications – surgical procedure training, employee product training, assembly training, nurse product training, anything that involves complex step-by-step procedural learning.

VR has huge advantages in training.

1) VR is scalable.  You can train one, 100, or 10,000 people in the same hour.  Imagine that.

2) VR is low cost. For instance in surgical training, you can do this without cadavers or instrument kits.  Huge savings.

3) VR transforms time and space.  Surgeons, sales reps or whoever can train together over any distance.  Physical barriers are removed with VR.

A good example of a company leading in VR is PrecisionOS who just partnered with NuVasive. [PrecisionOS website]


Think of AR  as the real world, but better.

Remember the Terminator 2 movie when he is scanning people and vehicles and critical information appears in the frame? Remember when you first saw the yellow first down line during the NFL? These are examples of AR. I believe that AR in orthopedics is best suited for critical real-time information while working on a patient.

AR has huge advantages in precision

1) AR reduces the difficulty level for complex surgeries. AR can turn an average surgeon into a super-surgeon.

2) AR saves time in the operating room. No more looking back and forth at the 2D display and trying to understand the 3D working aspect.

3) AR reduces risk to the patient.

A good example of a company leading in AR is Augmedics. [Augmedics website, my interview with the CEO]

In Summary

I believe that AR can be the more disruptive technology for orthopedics because it has broader applications than VR.

If you have scaling and budget problems with training, your company should be investigating VR.

If you want to advance surgery for your customers, your company should be investigating AR.