How much do you know about Augmented and Virtual Reality?
You probably remember the Pokémon Go craze from last year, and you may have wondered what all the fuss was about, since it seemed like just another way for a mobile game maker to profit off the insatiable need that people have to alter their reality with fantasy elements.
Augmented Reality (AR) refers to technology that superimposes computer-generated images onto a real-life environment. And the number of industries using Augmented Reality continues to grow as the possibilities of the technology expand. In fact, when you Google Augmented Reality game, you will get thousands of results related to both AR and Virtual Reality (VR).
But the importance of Augmented Reality has gone far beyond the borders of game playing. That’s evident by the strong investment in the technology from giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google (planning a relaunch of Google Glass, with a heavy focus on entertainment and retail).
What’s even more exciting, however, is that Augmented Reality applied to healthcare may have many untapped applications. In fact, a recent Goldman-Sachs report forecasts the market for AR and VR in healthcare as being only second to gaming.
The Goldman-Sachs 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 most disrupt how patients are monitored in the healthcare industry, and the expectation was that the benefits of Augmented Reality would increase as the price of production dropped.
So given that all signs point to a significant increase in Augmented Reality healthcare, it’s important to take a deeper dive into the ins and outs of this technology, including where it is currently being implemented and the Augmented Reality application challenges and future trends in creating effective AR healthcare apps.
AR IS CURRENTLY REVOLUTIONIZING HEALTHCARE
Probably the biggest question you may have is how does AR work in the healthcare industry. The answer is that there are several Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality applications examples that can help illuminate the technology’s effectiveness in healthcare, including:
Virtual Reality doctor training
Augmented Reality for training involves surgical residents and other healthcare specialists using training simulators that mimic real-life scenarios. And one of the major advantages of AR simulators is that you can combine real objects with computer-generated images, which allows for more precise training. Other examples of Augmented Reality are AR simulators that can predict organ movement and organ deformation during an actual surgery, which allows surgical residents to make critical adjustments in a procedure.
Neurosurgeons are also using AR to help them identify significant blood vessels and to help them map out how to more safely remove tumors. Surgeons also use AR in orthopedic operations in which they can view reconstructions directly on top of the patient’s body, which reduce 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, so that doctors can perform a real-life fly through of a patient-specific surgery. Augmented Reality surgery is becoming more common for doctors who perform complex operations.
Virtual therapy is a growing facet of the therapy industry, as counselors, psychiatrists and other mental health experts are increasingly using technology to treat patients who can’t come into an office, or are not able to leave their homes for standard treatment.
With AR, however, counselors can conduct exposure-based therapy sessions to treat a number of anxiety disorders such as phobias. Exposure-based therapy is based on the idea that in order to overcome anxieties, patients must be exposed to those anxieties in varying degrees.
And with AR technology the immersion experience is so much more powerful. In the image below, the patient is confronting her fear of spiders with the help of an AR headset that superimposes spiders into reality:
AR allows counselors to expose patients to their fears in a controlled and safe way in which the patients can stop the AR session any time they feel uncomfortable.
But the benefits of virtual healthcare in this regard is that it fully immerses patients in an environment that allows them to experience their anxieties and then learn ways to cope with and overcome those anxieties.
A company named AccuVein has created a handheld device that can scan and illuminate a patient’s veins over their skin, which provides 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.
And the improved accuracy also means fewer times that nurses have to stick patients with needles while searching for the right vein, which amplifies the benefits of using Virtual Reality in nursing. 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.
CHALLENGES FOR PRODUCT MANAGERS TO ADOPT AR HEALTHCARE APPS
But despite the existing applications, the future of Augmented Reality healthcare will only proceed as far as new innovations in the industry. As it stands, however, there are some challenges that are making it difficult for AR visionaries to implement their plans in healthcare.
Making hands-on adoption a priority
One of the challenges is that the healthcare industry is traditionally very insular, cautious, wary of new technology and wary of significant digital transformation of the healthcare sector in the way things are done. So the barrier for new technology companies that want to develop AR apps is convincing leaders in the healthcare industry that AR is more than just a gimmick or fad, but can become a powerful tool in helping patients in multiple situations.
AR mobile app development companies in the healthcare industry must be able to show the advantages of Augmented Reality, but more importantly, they must be able to provide Augmented Reality training to people who have no concept of how the technology could work.
Another barrier is that companies must be careful with their introduction of Augmented Reality healthcare because there is a high potential for alarm fatigue by medical staff that may feel overwhelmed with a new tool that provides even more information than they already have.
A recent study about how Augmented Reality could change healthcare found that presenting healthcare workers with too much information might actually be worse than not giving them any information.
Henry Feldman, chief information architect and hospitalist at Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians said:
“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.”
The overload factor is a big one, and some critics believe that this is the main reason why VR products like Google Glass did not capture customer imagination as much as anticipated.
A final challenge is the notion that apps and devices for Augmented Reality healthcare must be rigidly tested to ensure that they do exactly what they claim they can do. New mobile app development companies that enter the AR space in healthcare that are “fly-by-night” outfits without the resources to do app testing and refine their products may doom things for higher-quality companies.
Skip Rizzo, director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista, California put it quite succinctly:
“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 you have the research behind you. We have to appeal to a higher standard.”
THE FUTURE OF AUGMENTED REALITY HEALTHCARE
As with many new technologies, it is difficult to predict the longevity of Augmented Reality healthcare, but one thing is certain: investment in AR technology will continue to increase every year.
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 in that respect, 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 technology that is in its infancy, but that 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.
And the future may be even brighter, as innovators are already beta-testing VR goggles that doctors can wear. The goggles would also be able to transmit vital patient information, and not only would it increase a doctor’s concentration, it would also eliminate the anxiety patients feel when a doctor breaks eye contact with them.
So 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?
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