Augmented reality teaches UF students hands-on skills

JUL 16, 2022

University of Findlay sonography students will be using cutting-edge technology in more depth this fall semester.

The university announced in May that it was the first in higher education to incorporate "augmented reality" technology into their hands-on health professions programs.

The technology, developed by MediView XR Inc., an Ohio-based medical technology company partnered with GE Healthcare and Microsoft, uses computer-powered glasses that project images on the user’s view of the real world. Users can also remotely call people through an integration with Microsoft Teams to see through the eyes of the person performing the ultrasound.

A sonography student using the system wears a pair of glasses, which a built-in computer uses to project images into their eyes so they can see them in 3D.

It also allows a practitioner to collaborate remotely with another health care practitioner. Adam Rakestraw, chairman and co-founder of MediView, said a health care worker at a hospital could collaborate with another practitioner, such as a sonographer wearing a headset calling in a radiologist. It’s also possible to provide annotations on what they see.

Rakestraw said a sonographer in a rural community might be able to call in a radiologist from a larger community, avoiding having to send the patient to a second appointment.

In addition to offering new possibilities for collaboration, another goal of the system is to avoid what Rakestraw termed the “gymnastics” sonographers must perform in order to do their work.

In the intensive care unit, for example, there are many machines around the patient, said Jahannah Rea, staff instructor and clinical coordinator for UF’s sonography program. The sonographer ends up “doing the splits” in order to reach the patient and the equipment. Over time, they sustain a lot of workplace injuries, she said.

The augmented reality technology allows the image to appear closer to the sonographer’s line of sight, with no such contortions required.

Rea said this will also be more comfortable for patients in some circumstances, as they won’t have to be asked to move into odd positions themselves.

Rea said people associate sonography with the ultrasounds given to pregnant women, but that’s actually only a small fraction of what they do. In fact, sonographers scan all sorts of anatomical structures, from the heart to the liver, kidneys or gallbladder, she said.

UF’s sonography program is a four-year bachelor’s degree. After taking the prerequisite courses, which emphasize a science background, students take about 18 months of classes focused on sonography itself.

“We scan more than anything,” Rea said.

She said much of what students need to learn involves practicing hands-on techniques. Students then go through clinical rotations in hospitals, both locally and out of the area.

Rakestraw said MediView and UF mutually agreed that the university would be the ideal beta site for this system. The university will provide feedback to MediView for future improvements.

Rakestraw said a particular goal is to streamline how the user interacts with the technology. The goal is for using it to be “intuitive and easy, like using a toaster.”

Rea said for students to learn this technology while still in school will give them a leg up when they begin working in a hospital. Students have practiced with the new equipment a little, but will use it more in depth this fall semester.

Rakestraw said this type of technology would not have been possible a few years ago. He said the potential is “unlimited” for augmented reality, including things such as the “metaverse,” he said, noting that Facebook recently changed its name to Meta.

He also noted that augmented reality was first developed in Ohio, for fighter pilots at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the 1980s.

MediView was cofounded by Rakestraw, who is from Findlay, and John Black, who is from Bowling Green. Both have a background in medical devices. Rakestraw was a medical sales representative in the past.

The Cleveland Clinic, which also developed the technology, is a partial owner in the Cleveland-based company.