When it comes to knee replacement surgery, orthopedic surgeons now have a new tool for the operating room: augmented reality knee replacement. This technology enables a surgeon to view important data using special smart glasses or a helmet-based visor while maintaining their view of the surgical site. In that way, augmented reality differs from virtual reality.

“Think of a fighter pilot in a jet that has a visor over their eyes that’s displaying electronic data that is overlaid over what they’re seeing in the real world,” explains Dr. Michael Taunton, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. “So don’t confuse this with virtual reality that your kids have at home, that they’re playing video games with their eyes covered.”

Augmented reality technology superimposes digital content, including data and 3D images, onto the user’s view. Surgeons use this information to be precise and receive real-time feedback when removing bone and cartilage, and placing a knee implant. Dr. Taunton explains augmented reality is a new advancement beyond computer-assisted knee replacement.

“We’ve had computer-assisted surgery for a while where we take data from the patient’s own leg and enter that into a computer, and have it display some of this information to help us understand how best to remove the correct amount of bone in the right angle to make the knee replacement fit better, and have better alignment of the limb after surgery,” says Dr. Taunton. “The problem with some of those computer-assisted programs is that there is a screen or computer that we’re looking at across the room. So we’re having to take our eyes off the patient during surgery.”

The first augmented reality knee replacement at Mayo Clinic was performed in fall of 2021, and the technology is not yet widely available. Research is ongoing to study whether augmented reality can reduce the length of surgery and improve patient outcomes.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Taunton discusses the advantages of using augmented reality for knee replacement surgery.
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