Dr. Mark McKenna Reports on Augmented Reality in Medicine


Pokémon Go gave millions of people their first taste of augmented reality (AR), which is a computer that digitally enhances real-life environments, including sights and sounds. AR tools have also made inroads into healthcare – in medical practice, medical and nurses training and patient education, reports Dr. Mark McKenna, a physician and entrepreneur who monitors trends in healthcare and medicine. Dr. McKenna is based in Atlanta, GA, and is preparing to launch an innovative company called OVME very soon.

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality

The term ‘augmented reality (AR)’ was coined in 1990 by a Boeing researcher, and the technology has snuck into everyday lives via the yellow first down line painted on the football field. AR has also transformed architecture, navigation, military, tourism, and education – especially medical and healthcare education, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.

The virtual reality (VR) device market is also developing quickly, and is often confused with AR. What’s the difference? AR allows users to see the real world with digital information projected onto that environment. VR shuts out the real world and provides an entire simulation – a very immersive experience.

Augmented reality in healthcare

AR is especially adaptable to healthcare due to the flood of information physicians have encountered for years. That flow has been digitized in the form of electronic health records (EHR), but has not been as accessible as it should be to improve patient care. Patients’ lives cannot depend on whether the doctor can access the latest and most relevant data – and AR can help us with it.

The next step is to bring life-saving information into the doctors’ field of vision, reports Dr. Mark McKenna. A surgeon shouldn’t have to search through records to check for a patient’s allergy list before surgery. The relevant data should be on his or her AR screen. The location of the veins or organs should be projected onto the environment helping surgeons doing their job.

The following updates illustrate just how the technology is being applied to medicine.

Google Glass in the hospital setting

Google Glass has one of the most popular platforms for working out medical AR solutions, says Dr. McKenna.

Since December 2013, doctors at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center have used Google Glass to facilitate doctor-patient interactions and the input of data. Huge QR codes hanging in patient rooms can be scanned when the doctor steps into the room, and Google Glass transmits the relevant patient records and information. With this device, the doctor can receive pertinent information while still maintaining eye contact with the patient.

Orca Health’s EyeDecide

Orca Health is an innovative mobile software company bridging the gap in the patient-healthcare provider relationship, says Dr. Mark McKenna. Orca’s 12 mobile applications and integrated tools educate patients to make better decisions about their health. EyeDecide is a medical app that uses the camera display that simulates the impact of specific conditions on a person’s vision. With an app like EyeDecide, doctors can show a simulation of a patient’s vision – demonstrating the changes caused by cataracts or macular degeneration – as part of patient education.

Brain Power’s autism system

Brain Power is a tech company focused on applying neuroscience with wearable technology like Google Glass, explains Dr. Mark McKenna. The company’s brain science-driven software could transform wearables into assistive devices that aid the life skills education of people with autism. They have developed a unique software platform, the “Empowered Brain,” which aims to help children with language, social skills, and positive behaviors. The software’s data collection and analytic tools provides the child with customized feedback.

Google’s digital contact lens

Digital contact lenses and retinal implants are on the horizon, potentially giving vision to those who lost it. Digital contact lenses could also revolutionize diabetes care. Google Glass aims to produce digital, multi-sensor contact lens which will be able to measure blood sugar levels. Digital contact lenses could also augment reality – triggering an action, like turning the page of an e-book, with the blink of an eye.

Small World’ breastfeeding app

A Melbourne innovation company called Small World is conducting a Google Glass trial with the Australian Breastfeeding Association that allows their telephone counsellors to see through the eyes of mothers while they breastfed at home. This allows struggling mothers to get expert help at any time of the day without putting down the baby from their arms. By sharing the patient’s perspective, consultations get to a new level.

Medsights Tech’s 3-D view

Surgeons could soon have x-ray vision – without any radiation exposure, and in real time, reports Dr. Mark McKenna. They could see a 3-D reconstruction of a tumor using AR technology. Surgeons, technicians and other medical specialists can benefit from this technology. It has been tested for skin, head and neck, endocrine, GI tract, endocrine and retroperitoneal pathologies.


Drawing blood can be a very difficult procedure if the phlebotomist doesn’t find the vein the first time. AccuVein uses AR technology in the form of a handheld scanner that projects over skin and indicates where veins are located. The device has been used on over 10 million patients, and makes finding a vein 3.5 times more likely on the first stick – especially important with children and the elderly.


Microsoft is releasing a HoloLens app called HoloAnatomy, through a partnership with Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, says Dr. Mark McKenna. With Microsoft’s HoloLens VR Headset, app users can see every aspect of the human body, from heart muscles to the smallest veins. This will revolutionize medical education, allowing students to visualize the human body in 3D instead of black-and-white pictures in textbooks.

EchoPixel’s 3D system

This company offers a True 3D system that aids diagnostic, surgical planning and image-guided treatment applications, reports Dr. Mark McKenna. The technology is intended to amplify human expertise and improve both clinical efficacy and workflow.

Medical image datasets are integrated with the system, enabling radiologists, cardiologists, and interventional neuroradiologists to see patient-specific anatomy in 3D. The technology enables physicians in diagnostics, complex surgical planning, and medical education.

Many more apps are under development, as medical doctors and technicians expand their vision for medical diagnostics, surgery, drug development and patient care utilizing augmented reality. Electronic medical record systems will benefit from AR apps, and patients will have a better means to describe their symptoms – or see how medications affect their bodies. Limitless possibilities, says Dr. Mark McKenna.

About Dr. Mark McKenna:

  1. Mark McKenna, MD, MBA, originally from New Orleans, LA, is a graduate of Tulane University Medical School. He began his medical career practicing medicine with his father while simultaneously launching McKenna Venture Investments, a real estate development firm that helped redevelop New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

He is currently in the process of launching OVME, a consumer-facing, technology-enabled, medical aesthetic company that is reinventing elective healthcare.

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