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Kinecting with the dead

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 07, 2011
From the June 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Ebert said they’ve submitted their findings to the journal Surgical Innovation, and are awaiting a response.

But they already know some of the challenges ahead, such as perfecting the device’s voice-control. The system doesn’t pick up Swiss-German accented English very well, the accent of most of the Virtopsy examiners. And the team still would prefer to have finger recognition, which is being worked out by computer experts at MIT.

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Naturally, the Virtopsy team isn’t alone. As with the iPad, other doctors are busy trying to find a place for the Kinect in medicine. Doctors at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, for instance, have done something similar to the Virtopsy team, rigging up a Kinect to control a PACS system during surgeries, so doctors can flip through slides without leaving the sterile field. And a team of students has developed a way to control a multimillion-dollar surgical robot – hands-free, of course.


Scanning the fallen
In the United States, the technology that forms the backbone of the virtual autopsy process has caught on with the Department of Defense. Over the past decade, most fallen soldiers coming back from the wars in the Middle East undergo CT scans in the autopsy suite over in Dover Air Force Base.

In fact, Dr. Michael Thali, managing director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University Zurich and one of the founders of the Virtopsy project in Switzerland, worked at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology as a researcher earlier in his career.

Paul Stone, an Army spokesman, said the CT scans help the doctors examining the soldiers map bullet trajectories and help them find shrapnel in, say, the back, which might be ignored in a normal autopsy.

“We’re not doing virtual autopsies,” he told DOTmed News. “We’re using the CT scanner to augment or enhance the autopsy process.”

The scans also help the military’s data-gathering efforts to better understand how our soldiers are killed, information that can be useful in protecting them. Because the CT scans can be done on soldiers still kitted out in their full-body armor, researchers can see exactly where the armor failed to save them.

While this information is shared with the teams who develop the armor, Stone suggested it’s too simplistic to say armor improvements come directly from their efforts.

“It’s very complex, the data they use to improve or redesign things,” Stone said. “But we support that effort, we provide data, here and from the folks fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

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