Could Holography Be The Future Of Medicine?

Guest post by Nic Widerhold, owner, Ghost Productions.

To the average person, holography is the stuff of science fiction. Many people were first exposed to the concept of practical holography in the original “Star Wars” film, released in 1977. Although the apparent 3D images represented in the film were of relatively low resolution, the possibilities were undeniably intriguing — and undoubtedly inspirational to a generation of budding scientists. Subsequent portrayals of the inherent possibilities of this technology were explored on television series, such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Holography: From Science Fiction to Scientific Fact

In that imagined world, holography was vastly superior to the grainy, static-filled images portrayed in “Star Wars.” Entire interactive worlds were recreated in a special space. The unimaginably advanced technology was primarily used for recreation. This fictional technology more closely resembled the 3D interactive “worlds” promised by various recently introduced virtual reality (VR) systems. Although actual VR technology is arguably in its infancy, and interactive content is still largely lacking, these systems come closest to reproducing the experience of entering a “holodeck,” where fully realized, interactive, imagined worlds can be explored at will.

A Brief History

Of course, none of these imagined uses of holographic technology reflect present, real-world applications. That’s not to say holography doesn’t exist. It does, and has done since before the time of the original “Star Trek” series, which debuted in 1966. Although that seminal science fiction series made no mention of holography, the technology already existed in the real world, having begun conceptual development as early as the 1940s. In 1971, a Hungarian-British physicist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the holographic method. His success with optical holography was only made possible by the invention of the laser, in 1960.

In essence, a hologram is a photographic recording of a light field. The recording is subsequently projected to create a faithful 3D representation of the holographed subject. Technically speaking, it involves the encoding of a light field as an interference pattern. The pattern diffracts light to create a reproduction of the original light field. Any objects present in that original light field appear to be present, viewable from any angle.

Depth cures — such as parallax and perspective — are retained, changing as expected, depending on the viewpoint of the observer. Holograms have been compared to sound recordings. When a musician performs, the vibrations he produces are encoded, recorded, stored and later reproduced to evoke the original vibrations a listener would have experienced.

Of course, other forms of practical holography have been in common usage for decades. The so-called embossed hologram, which appears on many credit cards and even paper checks, was widely introduced in the mid-1980s. National Geographic magazine, which featured an image of a holographic eagle on its cover in 1984, marks the event among its most notable milestones.

The 2D embossed hologram image retains some of the characteristics of a traditional hologram, in that the image changes somewhat depending on one’s angle of view. It’s primarily used as a security measure, or as a marketing novelty (these mass-produced holograms have even appeared on boxes of children’s cereal). However, these illusions are not true holograms. While the National Geographic eagle was impressive, one could not simply examine the animal from any conceivable angle.

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Getting the Right *Beeping* Results: Innovations In Radiology

Guest post by Karen Holzberger, vice president and general manager, diagnostic solutions, Nuance Healthcare.

Karen Holzberger
Karen Holzberger

A few years ago, there was a witty car commercial advertising an alert feature that took the guesswork out of filling your tires by gently beeping to signal the appropriate pressure had been reached. It featured a series of vignettes where the car horn would beep, cautioning the owner to reconsider just as he was about to overdo something (for instance, betting all of his money on one roll of the dice). The concept of getting a reminder at the point of a decision is a compelling one, particularly if it can save you time or aggravation and guide you to do the right thing. In healthcare, any technology that can provide that level of support will have a profound impact on patient care.

Albeit humorous, that car commercial wasn’t far off the mark with healthcare challenges. Unnecessary medical imaging exposes patients to additional radiation doses and results in approximately $12 billion wasted each year, but it has also has another unintended downstream effect. It has fueled a culture of medical certainty, where tests are ordered in hopes of shedding light on some of the grey areas of diagnostic imaging, including incidental findings. The reality is that incidental findings are almost always a given, but not always a problem. So how do you know what to test further and what to monitor? And while one radiologist may choose the former option with a patient who has an incidental node finding, another might decide to go with the latter option, so who is right?

Beep! It’s important
It is important that when a radiologist sees a nodule and it has certain characteristics, he or she makes recommendation for follow-up imaging, which is why the American College of Radiology (ACR) has released clinical guidelines on incidental findings. By offering standard clinical decision support on findings covering eleven organs, the ACR is helping radiologists protect their patients through established best practices for diagnostic testing.

This is a great step forward for the industry, but some hospitals are taking it one step further. Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is using its radiology reporting platform to provide real-time quality guidance at the point-of-care to drive better patient care. Now, when a radiologist is reading a report and notes an incidental finding, the system will automatically ping her with evidence-based recommendations for that finding. For instance, if the node is a certain size, it should be tested further.

The results of having this information at the radiologists’ fingertips are impressive. In fact, studies show that when these clinical guidelines are built into existing workflows, 90 percent of radiologists align with them, as opposed to alternative methods, such as paper print outs, which result in 50 percent concordance.

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