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N.E. Baptist doctors develop ‘X-ray’ vision platform

MISSION HILL — Just outside his office at New England Baptist Hospital, Orthopedic Surgeon Stephen Murphy, outfitted with a headset, is jabbing at a touchscreen no one else can see.

“Once you see the technology for the first time you realize that you’re in a world of medicine that did not exist before,” Murphy said.

That technology is an augmented reality platform Murphy and colleagues developed to assist with hip replacement surgery. Loaded into the headset, it essentially lets them see through layers of skin and soft tissue to joints far beneath.

The idea was born of the conviction Murphy and others felt that the 3-D models routinely created as part of the surgical plan for patients at New England Baptist could be put to better use than just having them displayed in the operating room on a two-dimensional computer screen.

That forced surgeons to continuously look up from the surgical field to the computer screens.

Now, they need only look down.

On verbal command, HipInsight projects 3-D holographs of individual patient’s bones and joints inside their bodies. The alignment is so anatomically precise that by operating on the holograph, doctors are operating on the real joint.

“Science fiction’s always imagined our ability to see inside people to figure out what’s going on,” Murphy said. “And the big difference here is not the idea of being able to see inside of someone. But actually being able to do it.”

Americans undergo hundreds of thousands of hip replacements each year -- and analysts expect huge growth in the number of these surgeries in the coming decades. Murphy suggests HipInsight has the potential to make the operation potentially safer and cheaper.

“It’s simple, it’s portable and it works not only in big hospitals but also works in outpatient centers,” Murphy said. “But even more importantly, we can get information from anywhere in the world and support operations in third world countries as well.”

Simple and portable is the opposite of equipment currently used in joint replacement surgeries. Murphy said the robotics orthopedic surgeons have relied on for more than 30 years are not only large but expensive.

Because surgeons can ‘see’ into tissue using HipInsight, the surgical incision can be smaller. Big advantages there, Murphy said.

“Anytime you can get the job done without disturbing the soft tissues around the area you’re working, it’s a big advantage to the patient,” Murphy said. “All the risks: pain, rehab, everything is better if you disturb the tissues less.”

The FDA recently approved HipInsight after an exhaustive review process, Murphy said. And earlier this month, surgeons at the Baptist used the platform for the first time during a hip replacement procedure.

It was a success.

Beginning in April, HipInsight will become commercially available to other orthopedic surgeons and hospitals.

Learning to use the platform, Murphy said, is easy.

“The nice thing about it is we’ve made it as simple as we possibly can and it’s really enjoyable to learn how to use these technologies,” he said. “Because it’s fun to control them. And then in surgery, it’s really amazing to be able to see things you’ve never seen before.”

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