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Xbox Kinect in the hospital operating room

UPDATE – July 2014: Sunnybrook helped in the early development of this system, now known as GestSure.


Sunnybrook’s Dr. Calvin Law remembers driving to Montreal with his father years ago. Sitting in the passenger seat, Dr. Law was in charge of navigating. Too bad he fell asleep. Map in lap, they missed the proper exit by more than the proverbial mile. Today, he uses this story to explain the importance of bringing a cool new gaming system into his operating room.

Until now, surgeons like Dr. Law have been using their own “maps” in the operating room: images of the patient that help guide each surgery. But these were located on computers outside the sterile zone, making for a big fat inconvenience. “There was this gap between two huge advances. One was just getting better at surgeries. And also, all the advances we’ve made in imaging, but they need each other,” Dr. Law told me. “And where was the bridge to bring them together?”

Turns out, that bridge was the Xbox Kinect, which interprets body movements into a language the computer understands, removing the need for a remote control. This is perfect for the operating room because it means surgeons don’t have to leave the sterile field to check scans of the patient. In short, it becomes a hands-free GPS system in surgery.

“So what the Xbox Kinect allowed us to do was, with the wave of our hands, all of the sudden the computer is with us, the images are right in front of where we are working, and we’re able to bring that computer as if it were the last member of our team, right into the working field of the operating room.”

How cool is that?

I watched, intrigued, as Dr. Law demonstrated the system for me outside Sunnybrook’s surgical suites. Arms in the air, he gently moved them around and down, in turn manipulating the brain scan pulled up on the computer screen 5 feet away. It’s not a sight you see everyday, attracting equal ribbing and admiration from fellow surgeons walking by. Undeterred by the tai chi jokes, Dr. Law continued on, telling me that this will change the way surgeons interact with imaging in the operating room, potentially forever. “It’s really given us a new way to work with the images without breaking sterility or obviously putting our patients at risk.”

It’s funny where the seeds of genius ideas are planted and in this case, when two long-time friends were out for a jog. Matt Strickland, a general surgery resident was telling his engineer friend Jaime Tremaine about the need for accessing CT, MRI and other scans during surgery. Knowing the Xbox Kinect had potential beyond gaming, they consulted another engineer friend, Greg Brigley. A few roles of electrical tape later, and voila, they were able to bring fun and games into the operating room! Dr. Law was more than happy to try it out.

So far, this application has been tested in about a dozen patients with great results, helping save time and expedite the flow of surgery. Dr. Law says, even he was surprised at how quickly and naturally it was picked up by staff and students. He says this application will be especially important in cancer surgery, where attacking so-called enemy tumors precisely will benefit a patient’s quality of life and overall recovery by sparing healthy surrounding tissue. It’s like hitting the bulls eye every time.

Another benefit? Dr. Law was having a blast. And who doesn’t want a happy surgeon? Unlike the trip to Montreal, there’s no getting lost with this in the operating room.

Learn more about how surgeons are using the Xbox

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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