An NHS doctor at St. Mary’s Hospital speaks with a patient on a COVID-19 ward during the pandemic whilst wearing a Microsoft HoloLens 2

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust uses Microsoft HoloLens to protect doctors while providing patient care amid coronavirus pandemic

One of the largest NHS trusts in England is using Microsoft HoloLens on its Covid-19 wards to keep doctors safe as they help patients with the virus.

Staff at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust are wearing the mixed-reality headset as they work on the frontline in the most high-risk area of some of London’s busiest hospitals.

HoloLens with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist uses Microsoft Teams to send a secure live video-feed to a computer screen in a nearby room, allowing healthcare teams to see everything the doctor treating Covid-19 patients can see, while remaining at a safe distance.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which includes Charing Cross Hospital, Hammersmith Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital, says using HoloLens has led to a fall in the amount of time staff are spending in high-risk areas of up to 83%. It is also significantly reducing the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) being used, as only the doctor wearing the headset has to dress in PPE. Early estimates indicate that using HoloLens is saving up to 700 items of PPE per ward, per week.

James Kinross, a consultant surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare and senior lecturer at Imperial College London, who has been using HoloLens for many years at the hospital, said: “In March, we had a hospital full of Covid-19 patients. Doctors, nurses and allied healthcare professionals providing ward care had a high risk of exposure to the virus and many became ill. Protecting staff was a major motivating factor for this work, but so was protecting patients. If our staff are ill they can transmit disease and they are unable to provide expert medical care to those who needed it most.

“In one week our hospital trust switched from being a place that delivered acute, elective care and planned treatment into a giant intensive care unit. We weren’t just trying to restructure an entire building, we were trying to redeploy and retrain our staff, while at the same time we had to cope with an ever-growing number of very sick people.

“We needed an innovative solution. I’ve used HoloLens before in surgery and we quickly realised it had a unique role to play because we could take advantage of its hands-free telemedicine capabilities. Most importantly, it could be used while wearing PPE. It solved a major problem for us during a crisis, by allowing us to keep treating very ill patients while limiting our exposure to a deadly virus. Not only that, it reduced our PPE consumption and significantly improved the efficiency of our ward rounds.”

Rather than put users in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice.

Using Remote Assist, doctors wearing HoloLens on the Covid-19 wards can hold hands-free Teams video calls with colleagues and experts anywhere in the world. They can receive advice, interacting with the caller and the patient at the same time, while medical notes and X-rays can also be placed alongside the call in the wearer’s field of view.

“We’re now looking into other areas where we can use HoloLens because it is improving healthcare without removing the human; you still have a doctor next to your bed, treating you,” Kinross said. “Patients like it, too. They are interested in this new piece of technology that’s helping them.”

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Kinross has also helped other departments use HoloLens, including intensive care, trauma and in surgery, where it is being used to overlay CT scans onto patients during operations.

HoloLens is also being used to teach students at Imperial College London’s medical school, regarded as one of the best in the world, after the Covid-19 pandemic led to the academic areas to close “practically overnight”, Kinross said. Students can use laptops and mobile devices at home to watch a live feed from lecturers wearing HoloLens and learn about a range of topics including anatomy, surgery and cardiology.

Leila Martine, Product Marketing Director for Mixed Reality at Microsoft UK, said: “It is inspiring to see how HoloLens is being used by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust during the Covid-19 pandemic. HoloLens is keeping essential healthcare workers safe, while significantly improving communications to help patients.”

To support this rapid deployment, Medical iSight played a pivotal role by ensuring that the HoloLens and Remote Assist was configured with the right management, security and network capabilities required by the NHS trust, while also ensuring that it was customised for the easiest clinical adoption. Philip Pratt, Chief Scientific Officer for Medical iSight, said: “Deploying new technologies like HoloLens in the middle of a crisis is only possible if a healthcare worker can immediately pick up the HoloLens, instinctively know how to use it and immediately start getting benefit from it, which has absolutely been the case.”

There is significant momentum with HoloLens across many NHS trusts, including University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, University College London Hospitals, The Leeds Teaching Hospital and Alder Hey Children’s NHS Trust. Together with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, these trusts are working collectively to advance the use of HoloLens to protect medical professionals in their fight against Covid-19.

Around 1.8 million people have been tested in the UK since the outbreak of the virus, of whom 246,000 have tested positive, according to government data.

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A woman wearing a HoloLens uses Remote Assist at work