Augmented Reality Lets Clinicians “See” Their Patients’ Pain

Dentistry Today


Many patients, especially those who are anesthetized or emotionally challenged, cannot communicate precisely about their pain. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) have developed technology that helps clinicians “see” and map patient pain in real time through special augmented reality glasses.

The technology was tested on 21 volunteer dental patients, and the researchers hope to one day include other types of pain and conditions. While it is years away from widespread use in a clinical setting, the feasibility study is a good first step for dental patients, said Alex DaSilva, DDS, DMedSc, associate professor at the U-M School of Dentistry and director of the Headache and Orofacial Pain Effort Lab

The portable clinical augmented reality and artificial intelligence (CLARAi) platform combines visualization with brain data using neuroimaging to navigate through a patient’s brain while the patient is in the chair.

“It’s very hard for us to measure and express our pain, including its expectation and associated anxiety,” said DaSilva. “Right now, we have a one to 10 rating system, but that’s far from a reliable and objective pain measurement.”

In the study, the researchers triggered pain by administering cold to the teeth. The researchers then used brain pain data to develop algorithms that, when coupled with new software and neuroimaging hardware, predicted pain or the absence of it about 70% of the time.

Participants wore a sensor-outfitted cap that detected changes to blood flow and oxygenation, measuring brain activity and responses to pain. That information was transmitted to a computer and interpreted.

Wearing the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality glasses, the researchers viewed the subject’s brain activity in real time on a reconstructed brain template, while the subjects sat in the clinical chair. The red and blue dots on the image denote location and level of brain activity, and this pain signature was mirror displayed on the augmented reality screen. The more pain signatures that the algorithm learns to read, the more accurate the pain assessment will be, the researchers said.

The study, “Feasibility of a Real-Time Clinical Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Framework for Pain Detection and Localization From the Brain,” was published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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