What Does the Future Hold for AR and VR in Healthcare?
It was some time ago that Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) were exclusively devoted to the gaming industry. In 2021, both VR and AR are experiencing a keen interest from various spheres, including healthcare.
More and more healthcare companies are ready to strengthen their digital solutions with VR and AR technologies for enhanced data analysis and healthcare practices. By implementing these technologies, some companies have found new ways to establish connections with their patients in pandemic times, providing remote and personalized care. While others use VR and AR to improve medical training or prepare for pre-surgery activities.
However, VR and AR technologies aren’t common for most healthcare facilities and clinics around the world yet. Will VR and AR be widely disseminated in healthcare and medicine? And what’s the future like for the technologies in these spheres? In this article, we look into hands-on practices of using virtual and augmented realities in the medical field and healthcare and explore the prospects of VR and AR in the industry.
Assessing the AR-VR Opportunity
Before diving into the VR and AR opportunities both technologies offer in the medical and healthcare fields, let’s define how they differ.
Augmented reality (AR) is the technology that allows laying some information, videos, and graphics on smart devices over reality. Therefore, this technology augments the real world, adding additional data to it. The most popular examples of AR are the IKEA Place app, L’Oréal Makeup app, Pokémon Go, and many others.
Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated reality created by computer technology when a person completely immerses into a digital environment. The most widespread examples of VR are VR chats, Volvo test drive reality, The North Face for hiking experience in Yosemite National Park, and an immense number of VR games.
Here are some examples of how VR and AR are used in healthcare and medicine:
- medical training – medical students, doctors, or surgeons can learn how to treat their patients better or perform complex operations without the risk of making any surgery mistakes;
- robotic surgery – when robotic devices perform high precision operations controlled by a human surgeon with VR technology;
- physical therapy – VR helps patients to easier overcome high pain levels and ensure faster recovery when performing physical therapy;
- post-traumatic stress treatment – when a person is placed into the environment with a traumatic situation and he or she tries to find the solution and overcome the crisis situation;
- anxiety, phobia, and depression treatment – patients can use VR for meditations or relaxation in safe environments provided by VR;
- emergency treatment – with AR maps layered over reality people can find medical centers, pharmacies, and other healthcare facilities;
- personalized approach to patients – VR and AR can help doctors better explain to their patients how their operations will be performed or which steps a patient should take for more effective recovery.
VR Provides Medical Immersion for a Range of Patient Needs
Healthcare companies use VR and AR technologies to improve their customer experiences by effectively engaging them in healthcare activities. For example, by using VR apps for aesthetic medicine and orthodontia, healthcare companies together with their customers can plan the sequence of procedures and view their results. In ophthalmology, healthcare specialists can provide their patients with an app that stimulates the vision of a patient having specific conditions, like Cataract or AMD, and others. This way, patients can understand the problem better and get actively involved in their treatment.
In pandemic times, VR and AR technologies can be used for improved self-diagnostics. It’s especially valuable in remote areas where visiting clinics is challenging and people have to use telehealth services instead. Improved self-diagnostics with AR provides a better overview – if a person requires hospital check-ups and treatment or the condition can be treated at home.
Besides that, in isolation VR and AR-based apps are used for self-guided treatment. For example, addressing chronic pains, having meditation sessions to overcome anxiety, or planning recovering joint dysfunctions exercises. Now, those patients that have survived brain injuries and strokes can undergo a rehabilitation in gamified approach. This makes it more enjoyable and better engages patients in the therapy.
Another implementation of Augmented reality in healthcare for mass use is providing people with information on the location of healthcare facilities. By using AR maps, users can define where are the nearest clinics or any other healthcare institution in an unknown area. AR maps save time spent on searching for these facilities, which can be life-saving in case of emergency. For example, if a person needs emergency assistance due to heart failure, AR maps will show where the closest automated external defibrillators are located.
AR and VR for Surgery Deliver Preparation and Efficiency
Doctors and healthcare specialists also benefit from VR and AR technologies by using them in operating rooms and classrooms. For example, before performing an operation, surgeons can use VR and AR technologies to walk through the organs they need to operate or view 3-D models of challenging surgical cases. Moreover, 3-D organ models can be used for illustrative purposes at conferences, in the learning process, or to explain to patients what’s going to happen during the surgery and what will be the outcomes.
Besides that, VR and AR technologies ensure a more personalized approach in healthcare. By studying how their patients’ organs work and how they react to a certain treatment, doctors can build digital organ twins of their patients and perform more tests on them. This combination of clinical expertise and VR technology provides individualized treatment for each patient, guaranteeing their faster and better recovery.
Addressing Disparities to Expand VR Programs in Healthcare
VR and AR technologies have a fast-growing market. According to Allied Market Research, Virtual reality in the healthcare market is expected to reach $2.4 billion by 2026. Nevertheless, today the VR technology is experiencing some challenges for its widespread application. The main issue is the limited access to high-speed networks, like 5G, and low use of 5G devices.
VR and AR are still at their experimenting level in most healthcare IT companies and medical institutions. Though an increasing interest in using these technol