Case Study: Using Virtual Reality to Market and Train | Orthopedics This Week
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Case Study: Using Virtual Reality to Market and Train

The AR app Seymourpowell created for Virgin Galactic Courtesy of Axis Spine Technologies + Seymourpowell

Medical technology company Axis Spine Technologies and global strategic design and innovation company Seymourpowell are bringing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to orthopedics…and changing the rules of the game for young, high tech medical device companies.

Axis Spine Technologies

Axis Spine, based in the United Kingdom, near London, develops next generation anterior spinal implant technologies. Among the firm’s accomplishments so far is a remarkable and novel, virtual reality based system for communicating with surgeons and prospective partners in the EU and the United States…without leaving their UK home.

Axis Spine is a technology company. Culturally, the team is passionate about driving spinal care forward both in terms of surgery (the ability to restore both sagittal and coronal balance and deliver high fusion rates) and the incredible promise of an entirely new suite of disruptive technologies like virtual reality.

Screen capture from inside the Virgin Galactic VR experience / Axis Spine cage assembly Courtesy of Axis Spine Technologies and Seymourpowell

Axis’ on-axis, approach specific implants are in the pre-FDA clearance stage and are intended to address ALIF (anterior lumbar interbody fusion), OLIF (oblique lumbar interbody fusion) and lateral surgeries. According to the company, its “proprietary platform technology of build in-situ, modular cages provide increased sagittal correction options and unique coronal correction capabilities.” For OTW’s initial coverage of Axis Spine’s flagship product, the Axis-ALIF, see “Axis Spine’s Modular Interbody Device Cleared.”


Seymourpowell is a global design and innovation consultancy that operates across many industries. For more than 30 years, the company has helped others grow their business by “delivering transformative products and experiences that make a difference”

Harnessing the Power of Virtual Reality to Build a Global Spinal Implant Business

Virtual reality and augmented reality help to bring people and ideas together. To understand how Axis Spine is collaborating with Seymourpowell to use virtual reality and augmented reality to develop and differentiate its business, OTW spoke with some of the visionaries leading the project. During an enlightening interview, OTW spoke with Axis Spine Founder and CEO Jon Arcos; Seymourpowell Founder and Chairman Dick Powell; and Seymourpowell Associate Director Nick Sandham.

The Axis AR App / Axis + SP + Surgeon teams during design development / Courtesy of Axis Spine Technologies and Seymourpowell

The partnership is the first of its kind for Axis Spine and Seymourpowell and is Seymourpowell’s first time working in the medical device industry. A member of the Axis Spine surgeon design team introduced Arcos to Seymourpowell when Axis Spine was looking for “creative inspiration.”

Arcos told OTW that at the time he had wanted to “involve different experts” and “felt there was a lot that the medical devices business could learn from different industries.” Arcos began talking to his network and asking, “Where can we get a different point of view?” That was when he met Powell and asked him what a creative agency that thinks differently could contribute. Powell fired back with Einstein’s words, “Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created.” The relationship was formed.

Arcos explained that Seymourpowell helped Axis Spine focus on their goal and ultimately what they were trying to achieve. Arcos told OTW that he was impressed with how Seymourpowell approached its clients. He explained that they challenged users regarding what they want and what it is they need, calling the Seymourpowell team “expert observers.”

From the Seymourpowell process came a finer articulation of the Axis Spine goal. Ultimately, the Axis Spine goal is to “create implants that can be inserted without damaging the natural structural integrity of the endplate and to give the surgeon the versatility intraoperatively to deal with challenges that might come up whilst being able to effect a better correction of the patient’s spine and to maintain that correction over time.”

Axis Spine Is Taking a Different Approach to Spine Product Development

Working with Seymourpowell, Axis Spine has taken a different approach to spine product development. While working towards its goal, the company is focused on addressing the problems it says exist in current technologies. Namely, problems that Axis Spine claims exist in one-piece devices and complex, mechanical, expandable devices.

Arcos told OTW, that by working with Seymourpowell, Axis Spine has created a “modular device whereby the surgeon can insert the device in a delicate fashion to protect the endplate and by uncoupling implant height from lordotic angle, the surgeon can address foraminal opening and achieve alignment goals. The insertion methodology seeks to maintain the correction achieved because we’re not damaging the structural integrity of the endplate.”

Introducing Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

In addition to creating its innovative product, Axis Spine is going to use new technology to further differentiate the company. Namely by incorporating virtual reality and augmented reality into orthopedics, from implant design and development through to training and surgery.

Patient + Surgeon consultation / Courtesy of Axis Spine Technologies and Seymourpowell

During the interview, the parties were excited to discuss the pivotal role virtual reality can play in orthopedics, from the very beginning of the idea process all the way through to the surgical procedure. The strength of virtual reality in the implant design process comes from the use of a “digital twin.” The companies explained that from the beginning, “working in VR [virtual reality] produces a continuously up to date ‘digital twin’, that exactly parallels hardware development, and thereafter provides the digital assets for everything else and reaps benefits downstream.”

So where is Axis Spine taking virtual reality? Read on below.

Design and Development

During implant and instrument design and development, Axis Spine uses VR to share a common point of view of a component with other participants in the process, including its design and surgeon evaluation team. This provides a shared experience and understanding. It also enables participants to go through “virtual procedures with implant and instrument concepts before committing to expensive prototypes, allowing surgeons to contribute ideas and improvements.” Working in a virtual environment has the potential to save time and money. Powell explained that it encourages quicker decisions and allows “ideas to fail fast.”

Virtual reality has the ability to impact the design and development process in other industries as well. Seymourpowell recently worked with Virgin Galactic, a company putting people into space. Powell explained that the team used virtual reality to globally collaborate, create and design the interior of the world’s first commercial spaceship. The immersive virtual reality experience allowed them to execute their project and deliver the global launch of the cabin in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales and Marketing

Axis Spine is able to use virtual reality and augmented reality in sales and marketing. Currently, surgeons can use headsets to examine implants in giant mode. This mode provides a large scale, interactive view whereby surgeons can examine the implant to understand how it works and its capabilities.

Virtual reality headsets can also be used during presentations to allow participants to virtually experience visual procedures from the surgeon’s point of view. Axis Spine is also developing a smartphone version of this capability to allow for greater mobility in viewing options. Surgeons may soon be able to see different views of a procedure on their kitchen table.


Perhaps one of its biggest advantages is that virtual reality can provide a near real life training experience. Axis Spine emphasized that when virtual reality is used for training, it “hits our memory in the same way as a real experience.” This is different from learning from a book. Utilizing virtual reality, surgeons and staff can familiarize themselves with different surgical procedures and implants prior to real operations.

The Axis VR tool / Courtesy of Axis Spine Technologies and Seymourpowell

Arcos explained to OTW, “The plan for Axis [Spine] working with Seymourpowell is to then get the instrumentation built into the virtual reality so that we have a surgeon tool as well as a rep and scrub tech version of the tool. So that we can very quickly bring people up to speed with what the technology is all about and how to use it. We think that will help a faster sales cycle but also set us up for success in terms of well-executed surgeries.”

Better Patient Understanding

Axis Spine and Seymourpowell predict that virtual reality will also ensure better patient outcomes and more comprehensive patient understanding. During pre-operative planning, patients will be able to use Seymourpowell’s SmartMirror technology to see “the effect of a procedure on a patient’s gait and posture.”

The companies also anticipate using virtual reality to assist with preoperative patient discussions. Utilizing the digital twin model, surgeons will be able to provide their patient with a “complete and accurate description of the planned procedure, with recorded patient understanding and approval.”

Global Collaboration

Virtual reality can do more than bring technology to a single individual, it will allow device representatives to plan and oversee multiple procedures in different locations on the same day. Looking forward, Axis Spine and Seymourpowell are working towards real time, high fidelity virtual reality streaming. This will allow surgeons to reach out to colleagues in real time and enable global collaboration.

Arcos told OTW, “We see a number of ways that we can use this technology to enable virtual mentoring of one surgeon to another in a live setting, but we’re not there yet. It’s going to be an evolution for us over the next couple of years.”

Virtual Reality Can Save Time, Money, and the Environment

The cost of medical procedures is rising. Utilizing virtual reality has the potential to save time, money, and the environment. Interacting virtually reduces travel and training expenses. It can also save time, enabling teams to meet virtually when in-person meetings are otherwise not an option. A benefit during these uncertain times. Less travel means a lower carbon footprint, which helps the environment.

Technology is rapidly changing and impacting orthopedics daily. Virtual reality is a technology that is full of infinite possibilities for the industry. Looking forward, how do you think virtual reality will impact your practice? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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