As we move into the era of electronic health information, IBM Researchers are working to make “3D healthcare” as commonplace as the tongue depressor and the stethoscope.
Tapping into technology similar to 3D movies and gaming — combined with pumped-up computing power, resolution display and storage capacity — 3D is entering a phase where it can be used to keep patients healthier. IBM scientists predict that 3D technology will be a useful tool for a wide range of applications including advanced imaging and diagnostics, patient education, medical research and analyzing patient data.
There are prominent areas where 3D healthcare has already taken hold, such as medical imaging, where doctors can rotate an x-ray or CT scan to gain a 360 degree view of an injury. IBM is working with the Mayo Clinic to create an advanced algorithm to use 3D images to analyze the brain in a more sophisticated way and increase the chance of spotting brain aneurysms by 70 to 90 percent.
Another area is patient education. Using a 3D avatar of the human body – a computer generated representation similar to a terrain map of the body – electronic medical information can be rotated and moved to display the body in multiple dimensions. By moving a cursor over the avatar, it displays educational and medical information associated with that part of the body. It can also be used as a navigation tool for the clinician to get information from the healthcare record.
3D is also creating new ways to display information collected about patients to make it more useful to doctors and nurses. IBM Research is working on methods of understanding how groups of patients are similar or dissimilar. For example, medical information from Asian males over age 65 with both diabetes and hypertension can be plotted against other similar groups of patients to see specifically what treatments are most effective and how their diseases progress over time. By displaying this in 3D, the data can be turned and more easily examined to see relationships with other patients or other diseases, and get a better understanding of how to improve the treatment process.
While not every health-related technology is a good match for 3D, this new technology will bring about a new realm of augmented reality in healthcare — a combination of the virtual and the real. As the technology continues to advance, additional areas for its use will continue to expand and emerge.