Immersive wearables firm RealWear announced on Wednesday that the North Tees and Hartlepool National Health Services (NHS) Foundation Trust had deployed the company’s head-mounted solutions.

With the new wearable tablets and software, students can boost their learning retention rates and practice critical skills to secure their operating theatre training.

According to the recent use case, the healthcare department hopes to significantly increase the number of students receiving operating theatre procedural training in a secure, safe immersive environment.

News of the collaboration comes amid a massive NHS England Long-Term Workforce Plan, announced on 30 June, which aims to tackle increasing upskilling demand and the ongoing labour skills shortage across the NHS.

In March this year, the government organisation reported 112,000 open vacancies across the country. With the new programme, the Department planned to address skills shortages across a wide number of specialities, it stated.

For the local body, the Trust serves roughly 400,000 people across Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, and other regions of Country Durham.

For students learning with professionals in operating rooms and other specific locations, many instructors had difficulty accommodating large numbers of students simultaneously.

Due to safety, space, and mobility restrictions, large groups of students face greater difficulty viewing medical procedures. This can block learning and viewings of key procedures for medical trainees and learners.

For Nick Cooke, Trauma and Orthopaedics Consultant, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, RealWear’s wearable devices could allow large, diverse, and remote student groups to train with live-streamed footage of procedures. The students include radiography, paramedics, and physiotherapy trainees.

The Verdict: RealWear Navigator 500

For the Department, surgeons using RealWear’s Navigator 500 wearables provided students with unhindered views of medical operations and procedures in real-time via a monitor in separate rooms.

The organisation chose RealWear’s smart glass solutions after assessing them against solutions from rival firms. Surgical teams required a lightweight, comfortable solution that medical professionals could use for long hours.

Camera angles were also crucial to the operating theatre demo, and RealWear’s Navigator 500 wearable device also integrated Microsoft Teams for seamless, hands-free communications.

Additional perks of using the Navigator 500 included adjustable camera point-of-view, video optical image stabilisation (OIS), and precision zoom. This allowed students to receive sharper, more up-close visuals of the operation to enhance learning experiences.

Additionally, students could ask questions to surgeons during the procedure while viewing the live feed, communicating seamlessly with audiences. With it, learners could receive close-up views of organs and other operational protocols, boosting engagement and retention of the surgical demo.

Cooke said in a statement,

“Since deploying RealWear wearables, we can now provide more individuals with operating theatre experience in a single day than we typically would in an entire year, while giving them a significantly enhanced learning opportunity. The technology has enabled us to accommodate a diverse group of students, including those training to be paramedics, radiographers and physiotherapists to name a few. Student nurses from other regions are also able to join us for this learning experience”

Jean Angus, Head of Nursing Education, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, explained that students could face “intimidating” experiences when entering surgical theatres. However, RealWear’s Navigator 500 head-mounted display (HMD) ‘removed the barrier.’

She said,

“Practice experience in theatre is not available to all students, but by using the RealWear device it has been possible to accommodate students from 11 disciplines and 6 universities. This allows them to interact with the surgeon and view the whole theatre experience. This, in turn, may inspire students to think about the career progression opportunities it presents. The experience can play a role in addressing the significant shortage of theatre professionals nationally”

Cooke added that the Department had also noted a ‘snowball effect’ on the number of student interested in trialling the technology for future sessions. More students also applied at other NHS trusts, indicating a massive rise in interest in the new technology.

Dr Chris Parkinson, Chief Executive and Co-Founder, RealWear, said,

“Simplicity, user friendliness and the ability to provide a bird’s-eye view of surgical procedures are the three aspects that are most important to North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust since its deployment. Our hands-free solutions are a gamechanger for healthcare, allowing a large audience of students to gather in one room and remotely observe medical procedures with zero obstructions. This dramatically accelerates the learning process for all in real time”

Future Plans for RealWear’s Navigator 500

The Department also aims to deploy the technologies in additional medical scenarios to enhance the patient journey, including post-operative recovery periods and outpatient consultations.

Finally, paramedics benefit from the technologies by communicating patient vitals with departments and remote specialists. Doing so can prove key for critical moments where every second counts in the field.

News of the use case comes after XR Today spoke with Dr Parkinson for the XR Trends and Updates series, where he recapped the experience with the RealWear Navigator 500 trial.

At the time, he explained that the company had been working on building its ecosystem of solutions and partnerships with tech firms. With these strategic collaborations, RealWear could “work arm in arm with these partners to offer these solutions,” he said at the time.