COVID-19’s horrific strain on medical facilities, healthcare personnel, and budgets continues worldwide. During the pandemic, we’ve seen technology pressed into use in novel ways to protect against spread of the disease. The incidence of healthcare workers contracting the disease while doing their jobs is heartbreaking, and the constant drain on healthcare system resources bursts budgets.

Researchers at the Department of Surgery and Cancer Imperial College London investigated the potential for mixed-reality (MR) systems to help protect hospital staff. The team of MBBS, MD, and Ph.D. researchers equipped 28 clinical staff personnel with Microsoft HoloLens2 headsets. The staff members worked in three clinical areas: a COVID-19 general medicine ward, a positive airway pressure support COVID-19 unit, and a specialist unit providing care to COVID-19 patients who also had renal disease.

Under normal circumstances, three to eight clinical staff members visit each patient face-to-face during daily rounds. Each staff member puts on 4 to 5 items of personal protective equipment (PPE) for each visit. During the study period, a single staff member wearing the HoloLens2 entered the COVID-19 environment while the rest of the care team stayed in a nonclinical location. The various medical personnel played active roles in patient assessment and decision-making via the MR device. Patient imaging and EHR data were by the device for immediate reference and to support treatment decisions.

The study results published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research are impressive. Compared to standard practice, the HoloLens2 deployment reduced staff exposure to the virus from an average of 3.32 hours per day per person to 1.63 hours, a 51.5% reduction. The amount of PPE items used per team member dropped even more significantly, from 178 to 30 items per day, or 83.1% less. According to the study, most staff members reported the HoloLens2 was easy and comfortable to use and improved medical care and team communication and decision-making. Overall, 25 of the 28 clinical staff members in the study (89.3%) reported feeling the team members were safer using the MR headset.

It’s likely physicians and other clinicians value in-person interaction with patients to support their assessments and decisions. Prompted by COViD-19’s cloud of threat, this study may have positive influences on medical care with highly infectious diseases even beyond the current pandemic’s lifespan.