Augmented Healthcare: progresses and challenges. An interview with Laurent Launay, Manager Lab

From May 16 to 18, the medical community met up at Paris Healthcare Week, the leading professional conference in medical IT. Over the past few years, digital technology has come to occupy a sizable place in the medical sector, and the technology is constantly changing. We asked Laurent Launay, recently named Head of the Augmented Healthcare Laboratory at b<>com, for his insights.

What are the latest major advances in augmented healthcare?

Over the past twenty years, medical imaging technologies have seen considerable acceleration, driven mainly by the transition to digital processing, the appearance of multi-slice scanners, the development of functional imaging (MRI and PET), and progress in three-dimensional ultrasound imaging. These changes have been accompanied by strong growth in image processing techniques, a consequence of progress made in computing. The use of advanced 3D visualization, segmentation, and image fusion tools, and sometimes automatic lesion detection, is now part of the routine work of radiologists.

The world of surgery has also undergone major changes with the emergence of computer-assisted surgery systems. Today, many hospitals around the world are equipped with robotic systems that can assist in medical procedures in fields such as urology and digestive surgery.

How do you think augmented medicine could evolve?

In the coming years, image processing tools will continue to develop, becoming even more powerful and reliable. The application of artificial intelligence technologies like deep learning, combined with increased processing power, will change the way we see things. The potential for change is so great that algorithms are already starting to surpass radiologists in some image reading tasks, though the final diagnosis is still up to the radiologist. In the future, we can expect a larger role for machines in the medical process, with the role of the radiologist likely being redefined, and robotic surgery thriving. Another major change on the way is the emergence of virtual reality techniques in medicine. Already they are being applied to continuing rehabilitation and training. They show great promise for imaging, planning complex procedures, and collaboration between specialists. There is also no doubt that augmented reality techniques will have a place in the world of surgery, by providing the doctor with useful information like imaging, planning, or guidance data, superimposed on the actual operating table. These changes, of course, will have a major impact on the patient himself or herself, providing a more accurate diagnosis, more reliable procedures, and shorter hospitalization times. They move in the direction of more personalized medicine, where each step of the patient care will be optimized based on his or her own individual features.

What is in the works at b<>com with respect to these advances?

In the “Augmented Medicine” laboratory, we have carried out several projects regarding image analysis, particularly on multi-modality fusion and 3D organ deformation tracking, tailored to a specific usage. Through these projects, our ambition is to build generic technological bricks that may be used in a variety of fields. We are also interested in surgical procedures from various perspectives such as video annotation, tool guidance, 3D object or organ localization, and augmented reality, via technologies in which the laboratory has gained deep expertise.

Thanks to the expertise and technologies developed in two other fields, “hypermedia” and “networks and security”, b<>com’s unique model offers many opportunities for healthcare projects.