Augmented Reality (AR) has officially surpassed the ‘new kid on the technology’ scene status and is gaining some bona fide star accolades in a variety of industries that have opened the door to this game-changer. AR use is growing in popularity and consumer use in retail, cosmetics, real estate, tourism and healthcare in both end-user engagement and daily work lives of industry members.
A report on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) released this spring by Perkins Coie LLP pinpointed education, gaming and healthcare and medical devices as the top three sectors where the major investments in VR and AR are to happen over the next 12 months.
Our previous blog examined and explained how the healthcare industry is using Virtual Reality in various, industry spanning ways and applications. This piece will introduce you to the exciting ways in which AR is being used to improve training of healthcare professionals, assisting them in their daily tasks and changing the overall landscape of the industry by transforming the process of diagnosing and treating patients.
AR Improving Medical Training
We will start the list of AR’s numerous benefits and applications within the healthcare industry with the most practical one: groundbreaking training methods of medical staff. Information retained through visual and physical motions has been proven to last longer in the memory of students.
Take, for instance, one of the most dreaded things to master when it comes to medicine – the human anatomy. By use of 3D visualizations, an AR device provides the end user with information in the form of texts and videos that nearly place one into the human body itself.
Microsoft HoloLens along with Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Cleveland Clinic has created a way for medical students to view the human anatomy in a more realistic way than ever before. The HoloAnatomy software, which is built on top of the Microsoft HoloLens technology, allows students to access models of the human anatomy to study them up close from any angle at their own pace.
HoloLens also developed a way for students to view the different stages of pregnancies and analyze the differences of each stage within the body.
Another system that has gained attention in recent years is ARantomy. Using OCR technologies, information is tied up with almost all parts of the human anatomy. Users can even manipulate AR markers that are displayed on the skeletal models.
This glimpse into the future of AR as a training tool is not only edge-of-your-seat exciting, but greatly encouraging and beneficial for both medical staff and patients.
AR Improving Doctor Accessibility
Our planet’s ever-growing population is posing some serious challenges when it comes to healthcare access for those who aren’t able to gain face-to-face access to a medical professional. While many of us may take this for granted, a vast chunk of the population is not that lucky and thus, a new concept such as Telemedicine can be a literal life-saver. An app called Proximie allows a specialist to use AR tools to collaborate and guide a colleague in surgical operations from anywhere in the world. It works in real time, giving doctors access to critical knowledge and better serve patients.
Assisting Healthcare Professionals
Just like I mentioned above, AR can be used to assist medical professionals in surgeries and other forms of healthcare. Dr. Rafael Grossman performed the first AR-assisted surgery in 2013 using Google Glass. This system allowed him to see both the exterior and interior views during an abdominal procedure. He could see the necessary views to conduct the surgery without using his hands, speeding up the process of the complex procedure.
Since then, there have been many advances to using AR to assist in surgeries. Atheer created AiR Glasses that enable healthcare professionals to view vital information in real time and in their field-of-view. It also allows users to interact with the information using voice commands and motion tracking. In surgery or communicating with other professionals, this technology is a useful and more effective way to stay on task.
Applications of AR are also implemented in other forms of healthcare, besides surgery. A good example of this is AccuVein, an AR app that helps healthcare professionals locate veins for IV’s. Locating veins can be quite challenging as some people, mostly the elderly, have weaker and smaller veins than others. Using the AccuVein scanner on the patient’s skin, an image of the underlying skin is projected, showing you where the vein is located. This method is reported to produce a 350 percent improvement on first stick rates. In turn, medicine and anesthesia is being delivered more rapidly, cutting down wait time for doctors and patients. More funding is being raised for AR medical applications such as these to make the overall healthcare system more efficient and accurate.
Diagnosing and Delivering Treatment
As you can see, this technology has a ripple effect within the healthcare industry. One application of AR can be used in a variety of ways. As mentioned earlier, AR glasses that load information in real time to your field-of-view can be used to deliver treatment. Rather than looking through paperwork or making the time to write everything down, you can easily access critical patient information with the use of glasses. This eliminates the need to sort through paperwork and lets you update the information in real time by talking or interacting with the information in front of you.
Using AR to diagnose patients is a new and perhaps, the gutsiest concept of all others we examined. There are applications for modeling of the human anatomy which make surgeries easier, but companies are now taking a leap by trying to use AR to aid doctors in the intricate process of patient diagnosis.
Google is working with doctors to develop an Augmented Reality Microscope (ARM) to identify cancer cells. This microscope can see images along with a doctor to help them identify cancer cells. The microscope analyzes the image and overlays the image with information that the doctor can use when trying to identify cancerous cells, serving as an instant second opinion. Importantly, ARM doesn’t replace the doctor, but rather serves as an added tool to determine a prognosis.
Google says this is the beginning. They predict that this application could be used to diagnose a number of diseases in the future.
Witnessing the astonishing transformations AR is making in such a vital and all-important industry such as healthcare is a cause for excitement.
If the main purpose of technological inventions is to simplify human life, AR is a textbook example of this – and then some. The time is now and the foreshadowing of new advancements to come are both encouraging and exhilarating.