Hearing an excited sigh might be a surprising sensation at the department for severely ill at a children’s hospital. Although Toben, an 11-year-old suffering from Sickle Cell Disease (on the picture above), is just about to undergo a very painful everyday procedure, his charming smile indicates that the Virtual Reality (VR) headset he wears has already brought him to places far more pleasurable and captivating than his hospital bed. Helping patients to cope with excessive pain is just one of the many promising examples of the potential of Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) in health care. This article will present you with three (plus one) key areas where AR/VR applications have already disrupted traditional approaches to education, treatment, and therapy.
If you consider AR/VR to be not much more than mere entertainment during coffee breaks at practically every marketing conference, that’s fine, this perception is quite common. Hopefully this article will change your mind. Let’s kick off with some numbers. The Augmented and Virtual reality market value is estimated to rise from $20 billion to $192 billion within the next three years. When looking at the statistics from previous years, such a rocket rise indicates that we really have some very exciting AR/VR times ahead!
One could think that the vast majority of this value can be attributed to entertainment. However, AR/VR app development has already established itself as an important innovation approach in many other areas. One of them is health care, in which VR is forecast to reach the value of $3.8 within the next twelve months. Where could all this money go? Let’s take a look at some practical AR/VR applications in medicine.
MedicalRealities is a prime example of the innovations in the training of future surgeons. The VR application combines 4K 360° footage from real surgeries with extremely detailed CGI models. Aspiring surgeons can use the app to learn every step of the necessary procedures in a perfectly safe yet still incredibly immersive environment.
Young eye surgeons may capitalize on the potential of Genetech, another VR-powered training tool which has already succeeded on the medical education market. From the common good perspective, investments into such tools are more than desirable – no other technology could provide future medical specialists with such an immersive hand-on learning experience without the involvement of real patients. Moreover, interactive medical education is being designed for the patients themselves too! To name one AR/VR application, EyeDecide is using a computerized virtual environment to teach the general public the anatomy of an eye, and to explain various diseases and procedures patients might have to undergo in the future.
Improved Treatment Accessibility and Delivery
With the world population on the rise, the lack of skilled doctors is becoming an increasingly alarming issue. This is especially the case with areas difficult to access, or with highly specialized procedures. Telemedicine offers a way to diminish distances and serve patients regardless of the doctor’s whereabouts. With AR, the potential of telemedicine increases tremendously. One of the promising solutions in this area is Proximie, an app which employs AR to enable complete surgical procedures being carried out over distance in cooperation with a colleague present with the patient.
Apart from improving the accessibility of health care, AR applications also open up new opportunities for physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Ghostman is an AR app which allows users to watch their own movements in tandem with the demonstration. This way, rehabilitating patients can adjust their movements in real time, effectively improve their motor skills, and dramatically speed up their treatment progress.
The final area I wish to cover involves the mind. Although AR/VR is all about how real body movements can be incorporated in artificial worlds, immersive experiences provided by these technologies can strongly impact our brain and mental wellbeing too. The article started with the story of Toben, a young patient which is being successfully distracted from a very painful procedure by KindVR, a VR application developed in cooperation with several US research hospitals to provide a deeply immersive and soothing experience when needed. The app was developed for five specific medical procedures, which ensures that the user experience perfectly matches the medical context and serves its purpose well.
Pain management solutions are not the only mind-related application of AR/VR. Research-driven AR/VR design and development has also proven to be useful for many psychological therapies, successfully treating depression or phobias.
Opening Up New Horizons
The cases above are just a small snapshot of the current successes of AR/VR applications within the field of health care. However, the true impact of AR/VR on the future of medicine is yet to come. Just like any other emerging technology, AR/VR has the potential to disrupt traditional approaches to medical education, treatment, and therapy. However, AR/VR’s unique ability to provide truly immersive and interactive virtual experiences suggests that this technology could indeed turn the current health care paradigms upside down. And when that happens, we at Pixelfield would be proud to contribute with our own scalable AR/VR design and development.
Images retrieved from:
Physical therapy example: https://visualise.com/virtual-reality/virtual-reality-healthcare