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Is Augmented Reality Healthcare Here To Stay?

How much do you know about augmented virtual reality?

Even if your answer to this question is “not much,” you probably remember the recent Pokémon Go craze. And if you’re like a lot of us, you probably also wondered what all the hype was about.

Much of the hype surrounding Pokémon Go centered around its use of an exciting technology: augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) refers to technology that superimposes computer-generated images onto a real-life environment. But the importance of augmented reality goes far beyond the borders of game playing.

This is evident by strong investment in the technology from tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google (which is planning a relaunch of Google Glass, with a heavy focus on entertainment and retail).

How does this apply to healthcare? In short, augmented reality healthcare may have many untapped — and highly useful — applications. In fact, a Goldman-Sachs report forecasts the market for AR and VR in healthcare as being second only to gaming.

The report predicted that by 2025, the augmented reality healthcare market would total about $5.1 billion, with an estimated 3.4 million users throughout the world.

The report also predicted that the future of augmented reality would disrupt how healthcare patients are currently monitored, with the expectation being that the benefits of augmented reality would increase as the price of production dropped.

Given that all signs point to a significant increase in the use of augmented reality healthcare, we take a deeper dive into the ins and outs of this technology, including the augmented reality applications, challenges, and future trends.


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Where AR is currently revolutionizing healthcare

The applications of AR in healthcare are bountiful, as it enhances the patient experience through medical training and treatment.

Is Augmented Reality Healthcare Here To Stay? | HealthcareWeekly

So how does AR actually work in the healthcare industry? The answer is that there are several virtual reality applications that can showcase the technology’s effectiveness within the industry, including:

  • Virtual reality training: Augmented reality training involves surgical residents and other healthcare specialists using training simulators that mimic real-life scenarios. One of the major advantages of AR simulators is that you can combine real objects with computer-generated images, allowing for more precise training.

AR simulators can also predict organ movement and organ deformation during an actual surgery, which allows surgical residents to make critical adjustments during the procedure.

  • Surgical Assistance: Neurosurgeons are using AR to identify enlarged blood vessels and to help map the safest route for tumor removal. Surgeons also use AR in orthopedic operations, where they can view reconstructions directly on top of a patient’s body, reducing the number of distractions caused by looking at an external display.

A company named Surgical Theater has also introduced the Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP), which connects to operating room navigation systems and provides surgeons with 3D, microscopic images of a patient’s tumor.

  • Virtual Therapy: Virtual therapy is a growing facet of the therapy industry, as counselors, psychiatrists, and other mental health experts are increasingly relying on technology to treat patients who can’t come into an office, or who are unable to leave their homes for standard treatment.

With AR, counselors can conduct exposure-based therapy sessions to treat a number of anxiety disorders, such as phobias. Exposure-based therapy is based on the premise that in order to overcome anxieties, patients must be exposed to those anxieties to varying degrees.

Using AR technology, the immersive experience is much more powerful. A patient would be able to confront her fear of spiders with the help of an AR headset that superimposes spiders into her reality:

Is Augmented Reality Healthcare Here To Stay? | HealthcareWeekly

AR allows counselors to expose patients to their fears in a controlled, safe environment in which the patient can stop the AR session at any time.

In this regard, the primary benefit of virtual healthcare is that AR technology fully immerses patients into an environment that allows them to experience their anxieties and then learn ways to cope with and overcome them.

  • Medical Visualization: A company named AccuVein has created a handheld device that can scan and illuminate a patient’s veins over their skin, providing significant assistance for intravenous (IV) injections. Hospitals and clinics that use AccuVein can save $4.25 per patient, and a recent study found that 81% of nurses who used AccuVein reported a significant improvement in locating veins for injections.  

The improved accuracy also means fewer needle sticks, which improves the patient experience. In addition, InnerOptic has developed AIM 3D software that uses spatial technology and ultrasound to ensure that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers place needles exactly where they need to go without causing harm or injury to a patient.

Bottom line: AR will enhance medical training, improve workflows and innovate treatment procedures to improve patient outcomes.


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Product managers face challenges getting adoption of AR healthcare apps

The potential of AR is endless but only if leaders work to speed up adoption and innovation.

Is Augmented Reality Healthcare Here To Stay? | HealthcareWeeklyDespite these exciting existing applications, the future of augmented reality healthcare is dependent upon new innovations within the industry. As it stands, AR visionaries are facing many challenges on the road to implementation:

  • Making hands-on adoption a priority: The healthcare industry is traditionally very insular, cautious, wary of new technology and wary of significant transformation. The barrier for companies developing AR apps is convincing leaders in the healthcare industry that AR is more than just a gimmick or a fad, but a powerful tool that can help patients in multiple situations.

AR app companies focused on healthcare must be able to show the advantages of augmented reality, but more importantly, they must be able to provide augmented reality training to show actual users how the technology could work.

  • Reducing overload: Companies must be careful with their introduction of augmented reality healthcare, because there is a high potential for alarm fatigue by medical staff. Care providers can be aversive to implementing new technology that seems overwhelming. A recent study found that presenting healthcare workers with too much information might be worse than not giving them any information at all.

Henry Feldman, Chief Information Architect and hospitalist at Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians says:

“Surgeons don’t need a live play-by-play of every moment of a patient’s vital signs, for the same reason that your primary care physician probably doesn’t want you to print out and hand over a year of your Fitbit data. Your doctor would rather see the long-term trend, and a surgeon would probably rather have the high-level overview, and trust a nurse to point out any deviations from the norm.”

  • Testing: A final challenge is the need for apps and devices for augmented reality healthcare to be rigidly tested to ensure that they do exactly as they claim. Skip Rizzo, Director of Medical Virtual Reality at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, says:

“If VR [and AR] fails, it will fail as an idea — not because of the technology. With healthcare, you’ve got to make sure it does what you say it does and that you have the research behind you. We have to appeal to a higher standard.”

Bottom line: The health applications of augmented reality are poised to revolutionize the industry and treatment outcomes. However, health executives must remove roadblocks that hinder adoption and continuously test to meet rigid industry standards.


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The future of augmented reality healthcare

Although the healthcare industry tends to function like a monolith that adapts slowly to change, the benefits of augmented reality are becoming more evident, especially as it relates to surgical procedures and virtual therapy.

And while it’s easy to debate the advantages and disadvantages of medical technology, the truth is that technology has always been a tool that people use based on their needs. AR is no different, and as the technology proves to be useful, the future of augmented reality in healthcare may skyrocket.

Or it may not. That’s the fascinating aspect of a technology that’s still in its infancy.

But this doesn’t mean that the healthcare industry should adopt a wait-and-see approach not when there are so many existing uses for augmented reality healthcare.

As we roll toward a future of increasing digital transformation in healthcare, the question is simple yet profound: Will you be ready to take advantage of all the new opportunities?