It’s been a difficult and transformative year for healthcare across the world. As the industry acts to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, new methods are being developed to provide treatment in a more remote sense. This heightened emphasis on hands-free and remote treatment has accelerated the implementation of augmented reality across healthcare.
AR has found significant levels of success in the field of entertainment and collaboration in recent years but may become a more dominant presence in healthcare in the wake of the pandemic.
(Image: Valuates Reports)
With the global AR market set to top over $3.5 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 27.6%, AR within healthcare is likely to become a significant trend as more innovative developments take hold. Let’s explore the various use cases and future applications that we are set to enjoy in a more remote health landscape:
How AR is Applied Within Healthcare
Augmented reality can be used by healthcare professionals in multiple ways. One key approach is through the education and training of practitioners, and another can be found in the diagnostics and treatment of patients.
AR can also play a key role in improving the quality of care received. The use of smart glasses and connected devices can aid surgeons in monitoring vitals and accessing important information in real-time while performing surgery - reducing the risks of the operation.
Augmented Reality as a Tool For Accuracy
One pioneering way that AR is already influencing the world of healthcare is by improving the accuracy of service that professionals can bring their patients. The startup company AccuVein, for instance, has utilised augmented reality to aid the lives of nurses and patients.
According to the company’s marketing specialist, Vinny Luciano, 40% of intravenous injections struggle to find a vein at the first attempt - with the rate of success falling lower for children and elderly patients.
To remedy this, AccuVein uses AR by utilising a handheld scanner that projects over skin and shows doctors and nurses where veins are in the body of patients. Despite being a burgeoning technology, Luciano believes that the technology has already been used on over 10 million patients and that the use of AR makes the act of finding a vein around 3.5-times more likely.
This technology can not only offer a greater level of comfort for patients whilst saving time for practitioners, but it can also help to develop the skills of healthcare professionals.
Tapping into Reality Technology For Surgeries
Augmented reality, as well as virtual reality, can greatly benefit the work of surgeons also. AR and VR solutions are cropping up at a growing rate in both operating rooms and classrooms as surgeons prepare for their work ahead.
For instance, surgeons are already beginning to use reality technology from a more checklist-based approach. They can effectively walk through the organs they’re about to operate on, helping to change the way that surgeries are approached today.
The next era of technology investment could provide an emphasis on generating greater efficiency in delivering complex levels of healthcare.
Dr. Samuel Browd, professor of neurological surgery at the University of Washington and a co-founder of surgery navigation tech company, Proprio, said: “Instead of showing an X-ray to a patient and telling them what you're going to do, we can show them a 3D model of what will happen during the surgery and what it will look like afterwards.”
Browd believes that the true potential of AR can be found in providing a high-quality level of insight and guidance while surgery is in progress. “Once a surgeon experiences AR intraoperatively, they have a hard time conceptualizing how they would ever stay with the status quo of today,” he explained.
AR to Become a Driving Force for Telemedicine
Telemedicine has already become well-known in healthcare, and the technology has been heavily used since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic as professionals are forced to begin taking remote consultations with both colleagues and patients.
Over the course of 2021, we’re likely to see a shift in telemedicine focus to better encompass mental health issues as well as physical ailments and illnesses. The importance of mental health services for various conditions is likely to soar as a result of international lockdowns and social distancing measures. In fact, a recent WHO survey found that the number of people seeking help for anxiety increased by 93% from January to September 2020 - indicating that mental healthcare demands will require more advancements in both virtual and augmented patient-physician consultations in the future.
As well as talking to patients remotely, an accurate diagnosis often requires knowledge of underlying parameters. This means that a future of telemonitoring could become imperative. For patients with chronic illnesses, like heart disease or diabetes, devices and apps have been created to enable doctors to remotely check out patient blood pressure, blood oxygenation or blood sugar levels from a remote setting. This technology can pave the way for life-saving interventions while isolation restrictions continue.
The implementation of augmented settings and data sharing between patients and professionals has the potential to revamp the processes used in both private and public healthcare. Hands-on, comprehensive remote connections to patients may also help health insurance companies to provide more bespoke cover within their rates without having to use as many costly resources in physically seeing patients.
As the world begins to prepare for a future beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely that we’ll see remote augmented reality solutions continue to gather momentum as successful use cases from the midst of the health crisis become more apparent. With a greater level of consultation and accuracy around the corner, it seems as though a remote future could bring a wholly better level of care to patients.