The way we see it, the future of augmented reality in healthcare is nothing but bright and illustrious – period. Does it sound a bit opinionated, straight on? Well, how about some hard, cold facts substantiating the stance?
According to Allied Market Research, AR in the healthcare market size stood at 609.60 million USD in 2018. It is now projected to grow to 4,237.60 million USD by 2026. It translates into a remarkable CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 27.4% for a period ranging from 2019 to 2026.
How is Augmented Reality Used in Healthcare?
For AR to work within the scope of healthcare, the device must first be equipped with a camera. You can use different accessories, such as a smartphone, tablet, or even smart glasses, to do so. These devices must be able to work with AR software.
When the user points the camera at a specific area, the installed AR software uses computer vision technology to capture the environment. The software then analyzes the surrounding context and evaluates the changes as the user moves the camera.
When the device captures the environment, it retrieves object information from the cloud. Then it lends the user a 3D experience – the environment becomes half digital and half reality. Users have essential control over the AR software when moving the camera or touching the screen.
The AR display syncs perfectly with the environment when the users move around. Its size and orientation rearrange appropriately, adapting to the new context of the environment and providing users with an immersive experience.
How Does Virtual Reality Differ from Augmented Reality in Healthcare?
AR and VR in healthcare differ quite subtly, further blurring the lines between the two emerging technologies. Augmented reality allows you to collect essential data and then view it as 3D models. Virtual reality technology serves to simulate the environment virtually. But we can use both successfully in medical facilities.
Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality in Healthcare
|Virtual Reality in Healthcare
||Augmented Reality in Healthcare
|Virtual reality is a completely immersive process with VR glasses that totally cover the eyes (thus cutting you out from reality). So, it offers an entirely impressive experience.
||Augmented reality will somehow improve the real-world environment for you(remember Google Glass). It provides you with a real-world image and projects digital information into the existing environment.
What Are Some of the Major Augmented Reality Healthcare Applications?
Augmented reality offers a range of unique opportunities for healthcare providers and consumers. It provides mutual benefits and supports the growth of healthcare.
Whether it’s a group of medical students practicing surgical techniques or doctors observing and treating patients, AR comes into play. That sounds impressive, right?
We will explore further details below in the following augmented reality healthcare applications.
1. Augmented Reality in Surgery
Surgeons use technologies such as Microsoft HoloLens to support and simplify surgical procedures. And in February 2020, the first AR-led AR operation was performed at the Sant’Orsola Hospital in Bologna.
It involved resetting and repositioning the patient’s upper jaw, restoring their biting function. During the operation, Chief Surgeon Giovanni Badiali used AR headphones to access critical patient data in real-time.
It included various vitals, such as heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate, preoperative CT images, MRI images, and 3D scans. The ability to quickly access patient data is key to the successful use of AR in any other surgery.
2. Augmented Reality in Medical Imaging
AR improves the visualization of CT or MRI data by superimposing stereoscopic projections during surgery. This information is crucial for operations that need precise navigation to a specific body organ. For example, AR can be used for preoperative planning and to improve the exact location of tumours and surrounding structures to perform procedures.
Examples may include minimally invasive partial nephrectomy or radical prostatectomy, where the complex anatomy of the vascular system or nervous system could complicate tumor removal.
3. Augmented Reality for Better Description of Symptoms in Patients
Often, patients end up exaggerating or undermining their symptoms. It can lead to misdiagnosis and wrong treatment. Augmented reality can help doctors get a better idea of a condition beyond the patient’s description without any errors, allowing them to monitor and influence the patient’s current condition.
For instance, EyeDecide is a medical app that relies on a camera screen to simulate the effect of certain conditions on a person’s vision in graphics. It helps doctors and patients to understand the proper symptoms and treat them accordingly.
4. Augmented Reality for Innovation in Pharma Industry
With augmented reality and graphics, drug companies can leave an image of trust in the minds of drug users. Instead of talking in medical jargon about the drug’s effectiveness on the back of the syrup bottle, patients can now see in 3D how the drug works in their body against a specific medical condition.
It can be easily achieved by creating a detailed graphic video on the company website. And patients can scan the barcode in the bottle, go to the same page, and see for themselves.
Not just for patient education, the company itself can use the augmented reality interface to guide employees through the production process using detailed images and instructions on their smartphones at each step or on the installed screens.
5. Augmented Reality Assistance in Finding Veins
It can be challenging to start an IV. In many patients, the veins are difficult to spot, and multiple injections can cause physical and emotional pain to patients. AccuVein is a device for visualizing veins, making them visible to paramedics to improve the first-attempt accuracy.
It is seen as one of the best examples of augmented reality in the healthcare market, and quite rightly so.
The device first sends an invisible infrared laser to the patient’s skin. The blood flowing through the veins absorbs the infrared beam, creating dark spaces indicating the location of the veins. A visible red light then projects this image onto the user’s skin. AccuVein can be mounted on a flexible stand so that users can operate the device hands-free.
The device can be used for various procedures, including vein assessment or vein avoidance, such as blood sampling and cosmetic procedures. The device is also lightweight and portable so that professionals can carry it easily.
This assistive technology improves accuracy by up to 98 percent on the first try. It removes many obstacles to successful IV placement – the veins are more difficult to locate if patients are dehydrated or have dark skin.
Doesn’t this sound very much like the future of augmented reality in healthcare? It does, for sure.
6. Augmented Reality in CyberTherapy
Cyber therapy is a field of psychology that uses information and communication technology (ICT) to manage clinical change. It uses virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to complement existing traditional therapies.
Cyber therapy is increasingly accepted as a valid and effective way to improve the way professionals help their patients solve their mental health problems.
Augmented reality technology can combine virtual elements and environments with the real world. It is instrumental because it allows patients to immerse themselves in the real world while experiencing stimuli that almost seem real. It enhances the experience, enabling therapists to see their patients’ responses to triggers and control those stimuli as desired.
It has the potential to help patients have an increased sense of presence, especially those who have PTSD, social phobias, anxiety disorders, and others.
Computer gloves are also being developed and improved, allowing patients to interact with virtual elements and the environment. They also help you deal with distracting stimuli, increase your presence, and even act as a distraction during surgery.
7. Augmented Reality in Cancer Treatment
A team of researchers has developed and tested an augmented reality system that could lead to more accurate cancer treatment. Dr. Marco Solbiati and his colleagues have been researching as a part of a technology company called RAW in Italy.
They used augmented reality during the surgery, which required a needle to target liver damage accurately. They found that augmented reality can help steer the needle with very high accuracy.
The system is designed for simultaneous visualization of 3D anatomical structures, tumor targets, and interventional devices located on the patient’s body.
Researchers say the technology has the potential to perform interventions without the need for more real-time images during the procedure and could thus avoid the need for radiation exposure.
8. Augmented Reality in Life-Saving Situations
Many hospitals install defibrillation stations in critical emergency areas outside of traditional medical devices. Anyone with a smartphone can get instructions for these defibrillators through an app’s interface with the right AR tools.
Lucien Engelen has developed one such application — AED4EU — for the Radboud Nijmegen University Medical Center in the Netherlands. This application allows users to tag external defibrillators and AEDs in a database that users can access from their smartphones.
Thanks to the combination of AED4EU with the Layar browser, the AR function can find the AED faster and display it better.
While this application focuses on defibrillators, future iterations could apply this principle to any medical device or accessory.
9. Augmented Reality in Improving Hospital Navigation
Modern hospitals are complex structures where it can be difficult for patients and new staff to move around. A helpful feature of AR is the design of navigation and route finding aids that allow anyone to navigate the environment.
When accessible via a smartphone app, these tools are valuable for beginners and relieve the pressure on support staff. Resonai’s AR health solution achieves this through a virtual concierge – an application that can be used to provide personal navigation guidance on buildings and internal markets.
This tool provides direction to the desired departments and allows patients to choose the ideal path at the patient level.
Resonai’s AR navigation can also take into account focal points to maintain the practice of social distancing. At the staff level, medical teams gain a complete view of the facility to assist rapid response units in real-time. That’s why it is considered a prime example of augmented reality in hospitals.
In addition to standard navigation, AR has the potential to provide real-time assistance in emergency scenarios.
In a fire, earthquake, or other disasters, hospital staff may need to evacuate residents as soon as possible. A well-designed AR signalling solution can direct residents to sources along routes that avoid danger zones and prevent crowding.
10. Augmented Reality in Medical Education
There are no bounds to the potential and benefits of augmented reality in education in general and healthcare education in particular. In this case, Microsoft partners with Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, releasing a HoloLens app called HoloAnatomy.
It assists and augments the visualization of the human body simply and spectacularly. Microsoft’s HoloLens headphones allow users of the app to see everything from muscles to smaller veins in front of their eyes on a dynamic holographic pattern.
It can potentially revolutionize the teaching of medicine so that students can see the human body in 3D instead of the usual method: black and white pictures and descriptions written in books.
While Microsoft HoloLens is far from perfect, there is no reason to believe that we will not get there soon. So, the most effective way to get used to this future trend is to educate yourself and your children.
Similarly, Curiscope, based in the UK, creates immersive learning experiences in virtual and augmented reality. They have developed a virtual T-shirt, which assists you in seeing the inner parts of the human body through realistic holograms.
Top Augmented Reality Companies in Healthcare Industry
Now let’s talk a bit about the top augmented reality companies, ensuring we can make the best of this highly beneficial technological advancement. The time, effort, and investment collectively put together by companies like these are what makes for the viable future of augmented reality in the healthcare sector.
1. Orca Health’s EyeDecide
Founded in 2010 in Utah, Orca Health is an innovative mobile software company focused on bridging the gap between patients and healthcare providers. It boasts 12 mobile applications and integrated tools to educate patients to make better health decisions.
EyeDecide is one of the company’s medical applications that use camera visualization to simulate the effect of specific conditions on human vision.
Applications such as EyeDecide allow doctors to see a simulation of a patient’s vision. For example, the application can show the effect of cataracts or AMD to help patients understand their current health.
2. Brain Power
Founded in 2013, the Massachusetts-based technology company has focused on applying advanced neuroscience with the latest wearable technology, most notably Google Glass.
It creates brain-powered software that transforms wearable devices into neuro-assisted devices to address the challenges of autism. The aim is to teach life skills to children and adults on the autism spectrum.
They have developed a unique “Brain Empowered” software package to help children with their social skills, language use, and positive behavior. The software includes powerful data collection and analysis tools that provide your child with personalized feedback.
3. Medsights Tech
Can you ever imagine that X-rays could become real? Medsights Tech is working on achieving this spell. The company has developed software to test the feasibility of using AR to create accurate three-dimensional tumor reconstructions.
Advanced image reconstruction technology essentially allows surgeons to see X-rays in real-time without any radiation exposure. It is intuitive for primary care physicians in various fields, including technicians, surgeons, and other med professionals.
It has also been tested for other conditions, such as skin and subcutaneous tissue, head and neck, gastrointestinal tract, endocrine, and other retroperitoneal pathologies.
Many people are terrified of blood tests, mainly because a nurse or a phlebotomist will not be able to find a vein the first time, turning it into a long and painful procedure.
AccuVein uses AR technology to make life easier for nurses and patients. Vinny Luciano, a marketing expert, said that 40% of IV (intravenous injections) are lost in the first batch, and the numbers are bad for children and the elderly.
AccuVein uses AR with a handheld scanner that protrudes behind the skin and shows the doctors and nurses the correct location of the veins in the patient’s body. Experts estimate that it has been used in more than 10 million patients, increasing the likelihood of finding a vein on the first wand by 3.5 times.
5. HoloAnatomy with HoloLens from Microsoft
It results from a unique and beneficial partnership between Microsoft, Case Western Reserve University, and the Cleveland Clinic, releasing a HoloLens app known as the HoloAnatomy. It specializes in visualizing the human body simply and spectacularly.
The app provides such an incredible insight into the biology of the human body that it took first place in the category of immersive virtual reality and augmented reality at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival Science Media Awards 2016.
HoloLens VR headphones from Microsoft allow application users to see everything from muscles to smaller veins in front of their eyes in a dynamic holographic pattern.
Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Mountain View, California, the company develops diagnostic, surgical planning, and imaging applications. EchoPixel says its technology enhances human competence and improves clinical efficiency and workflow.
The True 3D System uses various current medical image data files to enable radiologists, cardiologists, pediatric cardiologists, and operated neuroradiologists to see the patient’s specific anatomy in an open 3D space.
This highly innovative technology enables physicians to visualize critical clinical features and assists in complex surgical planning, medical training, or diagnosis.
The San Francisco-based company is working to harness the power of Google Glass to make healthcare more patient-centric and reduce administration. Augmedix provides technical documentation services to physicians and healthcare systems so that physicians don’t have to check their computers when they visit patients, generating medical records in real-time.
The result is a reduction in the administrative burden for healthcare professionals. They can leave work on time every day, quickly meet organizational requirements, and still be able to diagnose and treat more patients.
The industry considers Atheer as a pioneer in the Augmented Interactive Reality (AiR) smart glasses platform, designed to increase productivity in healthcare and several other sectors.
AiR glasses allow users to see important work information directly in their field of view and interact with them using familiar gestures, voice commands, and motion tracking.
With AiR Enterprise Suite, users can collaborate with remote professionals via video calls and receive instructions via real-time image editing to increase efficiency – while staying focused on their tasks.
Founded in 2015, the startup’s name combines artificial intelligence (AI) and an ancient Egyptian mythological symbol known as Ra’s Eye (RA). Aira offers a solution for the visually impaired to create opportunities for a more independent life.
The team uses in-depth learning algorithms to describe the user’s environment, read text, recognize faces, or signal obstacles.
Using smart glasses or a cell phone camera, the system allows an “Aira’s agent” to see in real-time what the blind man is seeing and then talk to them about the situation, advising them in the best manner.
This introduction of AR makes healthcare more transparent, better educated, and adaptable. Augmented reality has opened up many ways to improve, from educating young professionals in detail to practicing the prevailing medical procedures that leave relatively less room for error.
With all of this in perspective, would you still find our stance on AR in healthcare opinionated, i.e., AR in healthcare is the future, not a buzzword? I am confident this won’t be the case now. So, let’s be a part of this new wave of technological evolution containing the immense potential to make our lives better and embrace it. The sooner, the better!