Augmented Reality: The Future of Surgery

Significant advancements in diagnostic imaging over the past fifty years have allowed surgeons to obtain a comprehensive understanding of patient anatomy and physiology ahead of an operation. Before most surgical procedures, patients undergo some form of scanning in order to confirm a diagnosis or determine the causes of an injury or illness. While this has significantly enhanced the ways in which doctors are able to prepare for procedures, they must mentally fuse multiple scans together in order to successfully complete an operation (Bin et al., 2020). This skill of being able to mentally project images into the body requires many years of training to acquire; however, in recent years, augmented reality (AR) has emerged as a technology that could potentially provide an innovative solution to this difficult task (Frikha et al., 2016). Instead of compiling a series of disconnected images, patients can receive a full-body scan that is utilized during surgery. In this scenario, surgeons wear a headset that projects digital images and data directly into their point of view while operating. Although augmented reality may present some challenges in terms of routine integration into surgery, a more streamlined approach to displaying imaging data has the potential to significantly reduce medical errors and even save lives (Saracco, 2019). 

Figure 1 from demonstrates how augmented reality would be integrated into the operating room.

By utilizing augmented reality technology in surgery, doctors may anticipate a significant decline in medical errors. When completing any form of procedure on a patient, it is absolutely essential that doctors have complete focus and control over the task at hand. Surgeons in the operating room typically have a large team working with them, allowing them to focus completely on their work; however, any slight mistake in this performance can significantly impact the wellbeing or survival of the patient (Vávra et al., 2017). Therefore, the condensed projection of all images and information related to the patient through AR will ultimately be less distracting for surgeons, allowing them to perform higher-quality procedures. Even outside the operating room, smaller procedures that may take place at the bedside would benefit greatly from the advanced degree of precision. These small, emergent issues outside of the operating room could utilize AR so that doctors would have greater control over procedures which may take place in a less controlled environment. Ultimately, the cohesive design of augmented reality has the potential to enhance all types of surgical procedures by reducing the risk of medical errors.

Figure 2 from shows a surgeon using the HoloLens 2 Augmented Reality technology by Microsoft in an operating room.

As augmented reality becomes more integrated into common surgical procedures, hospitals will likely experience a cost reduction on imaging equipment. Hospitals spend tremendous amounts of money to accommodate numerous screens displaying imaging information. By condensing all of these images into a single projection, augmented reality can conserve spending on unnecessary medical equipment (Salehahmadi et al., 2019). Additionally, the cohesive nature of AR technology in surgery could reduce unanticipated costs from procedure-related complications (Munzer et al., 2019). Nonetheless, a lack of evidence currently exists regarding the cost-effectiveness of augmented reality technology in surgery (Shuhaiber, 2004). 

Although augmented reality has the potential to significantly alter the field of surgical science, the actual integration of AR into medical procedures may present some challenges. As AR becomes more prevalent in the operating room, it may be difficult for surgeons to adjust to this new form of imaging. Additionally, augmented reality may not yet be developed enough for use in the operating room; there is still a lack of clinical studies proving the effectiveness of applied AR technologies (Eckert et al., 2019). Another challenge could be that augmented reality may seem cost-prohibitive due to the fact that it is still an evolving form of technology. In any case, the concept of augmented reality technology in the operating room seems to be a feasible solution to the problem of displaying patient information through inefficient, outdated methods. Ultimately, although relying on old imaging technologies may seem more reliable, it is within the best interest of all hospitals to utilize augmented reality technology in surgery. It is time for the medical field to update current imaging practices in order to provide the highest quality of surgical outcomes for all patients.

Edited by Lesley Mun.

Placed by Albert Liu.


Bin, S., Masood, S., & Jung, Y. (2020). Chapter Twenty—Virtual and augmented reality in medicine. In D. D. Feng (Ed.), Biomedical Information Technology (Second Edition) (pp. 673–686). Academic Press.

Eckert, M., Volmerg, J. S., & Friedrich, C. M. (2019). Augmented Reality in Medicine: Systematic and Bibliographic Review. JMIR MHealth and UHealth, 7(4).

Frikha, R., Ejbali, R., & Zaied, M. (2016). Handling occlusion in Augmented Reality surgical training based instrument tracking. 2016 IEEE/ACS 13th International Conference of Computer Systems and Applications (AICCSA), 1–5.

Munzer, B. W., Khan, M. M., Shipman, B., & Mahajan, P. (2019). Augmented Reality in Emergency Medicine: A Scoping Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(4), e12368.

Salehahmadi, F., & Hajialiasgari, F. (2019). Grand Adventure of Augmented Reality in Landscape of Surgery. World Journal of Plastic Surgery, 8(2), 135–145.

Saracco, R. (2019). Augmented Reality in the Operating Room. IEEE Future Directions. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from

Shuhaiber, J. H. (2004). Augmented Reality in Surgery. Archives of Surgery, 139(2), 170–174.ávra, P., Roman, J., Zonča, P., Ihnát, P., Němec, M., Kumar, J., Habib, N., & El-Gendi, A. (2017). Recent Development of Augmented Reality in Surgery: A Review. Journal of Healthcare Engineering, 2017.

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