Devices & Diagnostics, Health IT

How VR can improve OR efficiency

Orthopedics heavyweight Stryker is leveraging Microsoft’s Microsoft HoloLens holographic technology to reimagine the operating room and bring efficiencies to hospitals.


Traditional medtech companies are hoping to be a better partner to hospitals as the latter embark upon improving hospital efficiency. Some medtechs are even embracing cutting-edge technology.

Take Stryker, the orthopedics company out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is giving hospital administrators, surgeons, and architects the ability to virtually tweak the layout of an operating room.

The overall goal? Ensure that surgeons get a chance to make sure the design of an operating room is conducive to getting equipment and patients in and out of surgery in a timely and successful fashion.

Stryker’s doing this using the Microsoft HoloLens holographic computer. Hospital staff who visit the company’s new 6,000-square-foot customer center in California — part of its endoscopy division — are able to don pairs of the holographic goggles and use hand gestures to move equipment around a digital OR.

“When you’re building an operating room today, you’re looking at a complex set of drawings. Oftentimes the physicians find it so cumbersome that they might not get involved in the process,” said Stryker Director of Customer Excellence Chad Evans in a phone interview. “If anything, what we’re doing is creating a new language for all clinicians to be able to speak with architects.”

If you’re a surgeon, forget trying to use computer renderings to explain how exactly an operating room needs to be constructed and laid out to the designers of those operating rooms. Show them instead using virtual reality. As Evans said, with this technology Stryker is “creating a common vernacular between building architects and operating-room administrators.”

The 1,200-person company began rolling out this new technology through its sales force last December. So far, Stryker’s new customer center has hosted eight visits from different hospital systems around the U.S. Evans said major health systems are eager to take a look at how a different way of designing an operating room might help them cut both inefficiencies and costs.

“What equipment goes where? How does a door open? Where do we bring our sterile supplies? Before this technology existed there was a lot of guess work. You would hope stuff comes to scale based on [computer-aided design] drawings,” Evans said.

With VR tech, that guesswork is apparently removed. This emerging field is making inroads in the health field. According to Global Industry Analysts, the worldwide market for VR in medicine will reach $3.8 billion by 2020. At the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, surgeons are experimenting with VR headsets inside the operating room to treat patients. A program called Bravemind run out of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies uses virtual reality to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aside from Stryker, others are also using VR in the OR. At an expo in Atlanta in February, Michigan-based healthcare equipment company Skytron debuted a virtual reality operating room that gave attendees the ability to interact with various Skytron equipment in a virtual operating room.

“[Virtual reality] gives designers and decision-makers an immersive, first-hand experience [of] how our equipment fits and operates in various healthcare environments,” said Skytron President Craig Wassenaar in a press release.

Whether planning the physical layout of operating rooms in virtual reality beforehand translates into a better patient experience remains a question. After all, even with an optimally designed operating room, different variables govern surgery schedules and surgeries themselves.

What Stryker is doing is perhaps less exciting than pioneering virtual reality in surgery itself, but no less important, Evans would argue. By taking out guesswork on the front-end of an architect’s design, there’s potential for hospitals to save millions of dollars just by planning out an operating room correctly. That, in turn, could indirectly improve clinical outcomes for patients making their way through the OR.

“The operating room of the future is a concept,” Evans said. “It’s starting from the very beginning and asking, ‘What do you need to drive efficiencies?’”

Photo: Stryker