Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic have partnered with Microsoft to release a HoloLens app called HoloAnatomy – the first of AR healthcare application of its kind, and already the most lauded. HoloAnatomy won the 2016 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival Science Media Awards competition, out-competing many objectively-excellent apps, including Google’s Tilt Brush. The mixed reality experience of HoloAnatomy enables users to study human anatomy with a high level of detail and interactivity that is revolutionary in the field of medical education.
How can medical education and training produce superlative physicians and surgeons? As the case studies of Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital and Aravind Eye Hospital have taught us, the best doctors are the ones who have seen the most patients, performed the most procedures, and practiced, practiced, practiced. They have developed intimate knowledge of the idiosyncracies of the human body and its ailments, and they have firsthand experience handling the myriad permutations of medical conditions and their impacts on a procedure or course of treatment.
What if this same level of expertise could be attained, without requiring doctors to maximize the number of patients they see? What if the same level of treatment knowledge could be gathered for every possible medical issue, regardless of whether its incidence is 1 per 1,000 people or 1 per 1,000,000,000?
Augmented reality and HoloAnatomy will make this possible.
HoloAnatomy creates tremendous value for medical students and practitioners by giving them unfettered access to the minutest details of the human anatomy, on demand. HoloAnatomy, developed through the CWRU and Cleveland Clinic partnership, is available for use with the Microsoft HoloLens; students can use the app from anywhere. The availability of cadavers for dissection will no longer limit students’ learning, nor will the 2-dimensional world of medical textbook illustrations. Indeed, students can ‘dissect’ a virtual subject through small movements that call up different layers of body systems – skeleton, musculature, circulatory, etc. They can walk in circles around a HoloAnatomy projection, examining the internal organs and more from all angles.
HoloAnatomy also allows instructors to design interactive tests for their students, and to see where their students are looking during active instruction – allowing them to better assess progress and understanding. CWRU and the Cleveland Clinic intend to revolutionize their anatomy curriculum by deploying the HoloAnatomy technology at their joint Health Education Campus, expected to be completed in 2019. The partnership believes this tool will provide an unparalleled education experience that will both accelerate learning and deepen understanding.
Beyond students and educational institutions, patients, hospital systems, and payers are sure to derive value from HoloAnatomy. Better-trained doctors will produce better health outcomes for patients. Reduced incidence of medical errors will reduce costs for hospitals and payers. Similarly, a more sophisticated understanding of the human anatomy will enable even more procedures to be completed laparoscopically or through robotic surgery, shortening patient recovery times, reducing total hospital-stay costs for providers and payers, and decreasing hospital re-admittance rates.
While the value creation component is very clear for HoloAnatomy, the value capture component is murkier. The enabling device, Microsoft’s HoloLens, retails for $3,000; the initial version of the HoloAnatomy app is listed as “FREE” on the Microsoft App store. There is barely a whisper of publicly available information on how HoloAnatomy may be monetized by the CWRU-Cleveland Clinic partnership.
How Can HoloLens Grow?
Value creation will likely be especially high in specific contexts. For example, in markets where students don’t have access to the highest-quality instructors, or perhaps lack the materials needed for traditional anatomy classes (i.e. cadavers, surgical tools, etc.), students and medical systems will benefit greatly from the improved level of training provided by HoloAnatomy. Patients with orphan diseases with anatomical impacts will benefit as doctors are better-versed in the details of their conditions, and can interact with simulated patients’ idiosyncrasies before procedures. Educational institutions that implement HoloAnatomy training can leverage the mixed reality technology as a source of competitive advantage, and therefore recruit higher-quality applicants, faculty, and funding sources. The CWRU-Cleveland Clinic Partnership (and Microsoft) should capitalize on these specific pain points and market dynamics to grow HoloAnatomy’s user base and value capture opportunities.
Speculating on potential paths to value capture, the HoloAnatomy team might consider making the app a paid download, or subscription service. Students might pay for it as part of their tuition (alongside very expensive medical textbooks). Alternatively, the partnership could license the HoloAnatomy technology and training programs to universities and hospitals, who could engage in enterprise subscriptions in order to better serve their students and providers. Finally, if HoloAnatomy continues to be exclusively available on the Microsoft HoloLens, the CWRU-Cleveland Clinic partnership might consider leveraging a licensing fee or revenue-sharing agreement with Microsoft – as the HoloAnatomy software will likely drive HoloLens device sales at major medical institutions.
Finally, we have learned that as markets grow and mature, it is often best to be the content provider, rather than the device producer. The near future of the AR/VR industry will likely reflect this: as device technology has outpaced content availability, the next wave of innovation and value creation must take place on the content side. HoloAnatomy is well-positioned as an early mover in this space. Further, the app creates tremendous value in an area of the healthcare industry that is ripe for disruption. The HoloAnatomy team should put their collective brainpower to work on developing the depth of instruction available through the HoloAnatomy app. The team should also consider partnering with healthcare systems or provider networks to develop similar apps that address specific health issues. Examples might include: How does obesity impact the human anatomy? How does age, physical strain from work or athletic activity, or injury affect the human anatomy? HoloAnatomy might similarly have direct relevance to medical device companies (such as Intuitive and Medtronic) that are promoting the robotic surgery; integrating AR into surgical training with robotic operating rooms could speed adoption.