The best medicine: augmented reality and healthcare

Al Sisto

Blog by: Al Sisto - 31 / May / 2018

We recently blogged about some of the amazing contexts in which augmented reality (AR) is driving innovation, from computer aided design to architecture and construction, education to retail.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at a sector in which AR is actually saving lives: healthcare.

An AR primer

First, a quick reminder of what AR actually is. Essentially it involves overlaying a view of the real, physical world with additional content, through a device like a smartphone or tablet, or specialist AR equipment such as headsets. And that content can be almost anything – videos, graphics, text and so on. AR is enormously flexible, and it is developing all the time.

In the healthcare sector, there are two major groups of stakeholders to consider: medical practitioners, and their patients. AR offers a range of exciting possibilities for both groups.

AR for practitioners

Medical practitioners can harness the benefits of AR both while they are training and developing their skills in classroom or laboratory settings, and practically, on-the-job. Find out more about Tern's new investment, FundamentalVR which delivers flight simulators for surgery creating a safe, measurable & repeatable space to refine skills.

On the education side, AR can enable trainee practitioners to learn in a far more interactive and engaging way, particularly when it comes to exploring complex facets of anatomy, physiology and chemistry. Dissections, for example, can be overlaid with graphic pointers and visualisations of different conditions. This helps trainees to get closer to the real-world contexts they will one day be working with.

Once they enter those contexts, similar overlays can be used to make a wide range of procedures and interventions easier. AR scanners that project over skin can help identify exactly the right vein to take a blood sample from, for example. Or, in the case of surgery, a combination of an AR headset worn by the surgeon actually performing an operation, and a remote surgeon at a different location projecting their hands into the AR view, means that multiple practitioners can collaborate at once, even across great physical distance. 

AR for patients

Perhaps the most compelling message for patients presented with AR for healthcare applications is that their outcomes can be improved. First, the risks associated with surgery and other procedures can be reduced with the help of AR technologies, which offer more pinpoint precision for practitioners and, as outlined above, can better enable remote support. Second, aftercare can be substantially enhanced with the help of AR apps, which can illustrate the impacts of particular conditions, or demonstrate actions which the patient needs to undertake. This can be especially helpful for older patients who need to take multiple medication, or for those coping with chronic conditions which need careful management, such as diabetes.

On a more immediate level, AR technology can even mean less pain for patients. Gamified AR apps have been developed, for example, which encourage children to keep still while receiving MRI scans, which ultimately makes the whole experience less unpleasant. Scanners which illustrate the best point for taking a blood sample can make the whole procedure quicker and more comfortable.

And given that AR is all about augmenting an existing view of the world, it’s perhaps unsurprising that one of the simplest – and most effective – ways in which it is enhancing patients’ lives is inn helping those with sight conditions. Most people who are legally registered blind do in fact have limited vision, so smart glasses with inbuilt AR apps can dramatically improve their quality of life by helping them navigate their physical environments more easily.

Pokémon Go may have been the most high-profile AR success story so far, but the future of this exciting technology looks to contain far more dramatic applications.



Topics: IoT, augmented reality, AR, healthcare

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