AR & VR TARGETED APPLICATIONS – PART II: HEALTHCARE

 

Following the broad AR/VR trends overview in Part I, we explore what some of the targeted mobile AR and VR applications will likely look like and how these will provide an increasingly personalised, immersive experience for key stakeholders – in this Part II, Healthcare.

 

Physician Engagement & Patient Non-Adherence

As physician treatment decision making becomes increasingly mediated by mobile devices, peer influence and social networks, one of the challenges for pharma and healthcare companies, is driving engagement in the face of this rising complexity. What we’re seeing is a growing use of AR and VR to address this and help engage and educate physicians about treatment options. For instance, one pharma company recently created a VR experience to educate practitioners about the symptoms of vertigo as part of a wider awareness campaign around their drug. The experience simulated the vertigo experience and helped the practitioners empathise with the patient and understand the symptoms better before making a treatment decision.

Medical and physical therapy non-adherence is one of the most serious problems in healthcare and represents a heavy financial impact on all major ecosystem stakeholders, including pharma. There are multiple factors behind patient non-adherence (from lack of education to apathy) and immersive technology is proving effective at tackling a number of these. We expect to see more initiatives among pharma and healthcare companies as they explore how best to use this technology to transform the therapy cost equation for providers and empower caregivers and patients to achieve better health outcomes. Successful VR rehabilitation systems in physiotherapy, for instance, can now already be prescribed by physiotherapists across Europe.

 

Healthcare Cost Pressures & Clinical Intervention

With rising healthcare costs and ongoing healthcare reform, there’s growing pressure to seek innovative ways to improve effectiveness of clinical intervention, diagnostics and training.

It’s still early days for use of VR as a clinical intervention, but there have been hundreds of clinical trials looking at its potential. Many of these focus on the relief of pain and anxiety, but there are also studies focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias, diseases such as stroke, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as rehabilitation of patients undergoing major surgeries such as total knee arthroplasty.

Numerous developments over the last few years have also centred around the role AR smart glasses can play in surgery, trimming the time complex procedures take and ultimately reducing the risk of complications and the length of a patient’s recovery time. Surgeons wearing AR smart glasses during a procedure can stay focused on the task at hand with data brought to the surgeon’s field of vision. This is far more effective than the surgeon constantly needing to walk closer towards a screen to get a better look, and then taking time to re-focus on the patient. The surgeon can also film the procedure to later use for training purposes.

Virtual reality software can also help doctors make better diagnoses with little to no physical impact on the patient. By piecing together existing MRI and CT images into 3-D visuals , doctors can rotate around and inspect from any angle without having to open up a patient.

Globally, there is a shortage of trained healthcare professionals particularly in surgery and related fields. Meeting this shortfall in a cost and time-effective way, requires new approaches to training and this is where AR and VR initiatives have been gaining traction. For example, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has developed the world’s first medical training simulator, a Gear VR experience that places students in a virtual room where they take control and make life-or-death choices for their patient. A team of doctors in London, led by Dr. Shafi Ahmed, performed the world’s first 360-degree livestream VR surgery, available to audiences worldwide via the Medical Realities website.

Other examples include Zspace, an immersive medical learning platform, virtualizing anatomical representations into complete procedural planning and HoloAnatomy that uses HoloLens to display real data anatomical models.

 

As we can see, the VR and AR healthcare market is driving new, innovative approaches to old scenarios across the healthcare ecosystem. The sector is making significant strides in key areas from more effective pain management and medication compliance to simulation and training. As immersive experiences reach tipping points in terms of price and capability, it’s likely we’ll see proliferation and increasing sophistication of these applications over the next year and beyond!