Healthcare and technology are integrally linked. Whenever there is a major leap in technology, patients, doctors, and hospitals usually benefit from it.
In recent years, advancements in 3D printing
mean that patients can get organs without relying on a donor, telehealth
solutions put rural patients in touch with providers, and AI makes it easier
for doctors and nurses to categorize and organize data.
Currently, we’re experiencing a boom in
augmented reality (AR) technology. While augmented reality hasn’t made its way
into most hospitals just yet, it is set to revolutionize the healthcare
industry from top to bottom.
Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare
providers need to be trained to a high standard to deliver the level of service
and care that patients expect. AR technology can be used during the training
process to help trainees “experience” the real thing before they can work in an
operating theater or hospital ward.
Yale University already uses AR to train its nurses. Yale gives students access to AR technology through tablets and QR codes that can be scanned. This clinical simulation allows patients to see different wounds on dummies and gives students a chance to interact with patients that feel more “real.”
Developer Travis McCann believes that AR can
help nurses think more critically during their training process. McCann
explains “It’s a way to get providers to be more empathetic,” and that “you get
better results with a treatment plan with more empathy”.
Clinical simulations that leverage AR
technology are much cheaper, too. Manakins that breathe, bleed, and talk costs
upwards of $100,000. In comparison, a high-end AR headset costs only $3,000. Or,
for further cost reduction, students can utilize tablets that typically run
under $1,000 and are still integrated with AR technology that simulates
The operating room is a detail-oriented
environment, where data and accurate information can save lives and lead to
more successful surgeries. AR can aid surgeons by helping them plan surgeries
and providing an overlay of useful data during the operation.
Surgeons at the University of St. Mary’s, United Kingdom have been using AR to improve their services since 2018. AR has been particularly useful for plastic surgeons who want to prepare for reconstructive surgery before the patient comes into the operating room.
Matt Ives, a consultant plastic reconstructive
and plastic surgeon, explains that real-life surgery is “not like the anatomy
books.” Every patient they operate on is different, and AR can help them
account for individual differences in things like the location and size of
blood vessels before they put scalpel to skin.
Currently, Matt Ives’ team uses Microsoft’s
HoloLens technology. HoloLens allows surgeons to see “through” a patient's leg,
using AR to overlay CT scans. The CT scan is put through 3D reconstruction
software to provide a user-friendly image of the patient’s leg.
Ives explains that this technology is
revolutionizing the way his team works and giving patients a better service.
Ives states “we're saving the patient a lot of anesthesia time,” this speeds up
the entire process, meaning “we can get two patients done [. . .] where before
we'd only get one done."
IoT and AR
The Internet of Things (IoT) has improved healthcare outcomes for patients around the globe. Healthcare providers that leverage the IoT can monitor patients’ vital signs, collect important health-related data, and use smart devices to communicate with patients that cannot visit the doctor’s office.
Augmented reality can enhance IoT applications
by transforming data collected by IoT devices into meaningful visual
representations. For example, doctors who collect biometric data using IoT
devices can give patients access to AR-augmented exercise routines.
Doctors who are conducting remote
consultations can use AR to virtually display the patient in the room. This can
help doctors read the body language of patients and pick up on important cues
that might be missed during normal remote meetings. Patients who appear as
holograms in a 3D space may find it easier to advocate for themselves, too, as
they are still conducting the consultation from the comfort of their own homes.
Mental Health Services
AR technology can help mental health providers
connect with patients and provide better treatments for conditions like
generalized anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
AR may be particularly useful for patients who
are undergoing clinical psychology treatment. Clinical psychologists hold a
Ph.D. or a PsyD and “perform psychological testing, diagnose mental disorders
and administer therapy.” They have the most training in psychotherapy of all
mental health professionals and often use a range of techniques and technology
to give patients the bespoke treatment that they need.
Speculative research published in Frontiers in Psychiatrysuggests that AR can be used to “facilitate personal change when subjects are unable to move forward.” AR can replicate “real” experiences by overlaying real-life stimuli. This gives patients a “high level of personal efficacy and self-reflectiveness generated by their sense of presence and emotional engagement.”
Using AR, patients can explore triggers and
past trauma in a safe, controlled environment where they feel heightened
personal efficacy. This may produce “transformative experiences” for patients
who otherwise struggle to connect with treatment and guidance.
Patients who are interested in AR-assisted therapy should ask their primary care provider about speculative treatments. Finding the right type of therapist can be a difficult process, but tech-savvy patients can find a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor who uses AR to better connect with their treatment.
AR is revolutionizing healthcare by giving
doctors, nurses, and patients the information they need when they need it. This
will reduce wait times, increase operational efficiency, and ensure remote
patients get better service when they visit their primary care provider. AR can
also be used during training, as augmented wounds and conditions can be
replicated at a low cost and with relative ease.