Augmented Reality to Revolutionize the Health Care

Augmented reality integrates digital information with the user’s environment in real time and is becoming more accessible and affordable for medical education and imaging, dentistry, and nurse training.

Augmented Reality and Its Application in Health Care 

Augmented reality (AR) is the art of superimposing computer-generated content over a live view of the world. AR integrates digital information with the user’s environment in real time and is becoming more accessible and affordable for medical education and imaging, dentistry, and nurse training. AccuVein, VIPAR, ARnatomy, and VA-ST are among the available AR solutions for health care.

  • Dentistry — AR software built into smart glasses superimposes real-time data directly from a dental scanner, enabling a dentist to build precise crowns or caps. 
  • Training nurses — AR-enabled, tablet-based simulations of different patient scenarios allow nurses to better connect with patients (e.g., SimMan)  and handle daily work situations requiring a combination of social, technical, and team skills.
  • Medical imaging — AR enhances visualization of CT or MRI data by superimposing stereoscopic projections during a surgical procedure. This information is vital in surgeries requiring precise navigation to a particular organ. For example, AR can be used for pre-operative planning enhances accurate localization of tumors and surrounding structures for performing procedures such as minimally invasive partial nephrectomy or radical prostatectomy where the challenging anatomy of the vascular or nervous system could complicate the tumor removal.
  • Medical education — Professors leverage AR to educate medical students on basic anatomy and concepts; doctors use it to learn about new therapies and drugs. ARnatomy, for example, uses an optical character recognition app to access textbook images and overlays digital information on human body structures to help students learn the names of bones and muscles. Its goal is to replace bulky textbooks and charts.
  • Pediatric MRI evaluation — Current Studios has developed a AR tablet game that measures children’s ability to lie still for a length of time before an MRI exam. Doctors use it to determine whether a child will need an anesthetic during an MRI procedure. 
  • Helping the visually impaired — VA-ST’s SmartSpecs enhances the visual appearance of everyday objects and people using 3D recognition software. It helps legally blind people or those with serious visual impairments recognize familiar faces, find lost items, and easily navigate their environment.
  • Visualization of peripheral vasculature — The AccuVein AV400 digitally displays a real-time map of vasculature on the skin surface, allowing clinicians to verify vein patency. Patients benefit from less discomfort during venipuncture procedures. 
  • Remote surgical expertise — VIPAR (Virtual Interactive Presence in Augmented Reality) is a video support solution that surpasses telemedicine. A surgeon remotely guides a peer during a procedure by projecting his hands into an AR display. 

Health Care-Focused AR Apps 

Health care-focused AR apps in the Android and Apple stores include:

  • EyeDecide — Uses a smartphone camera to simulate the impact of various disorders on a person’s vision to educate patients with cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
  • DoctorMole Helps doctors analyze suspicious moles on the body and give instant feedback and useful in detecting malignant lesions.
  • Healthcare App by pixelbug — Helps physicians easily understand the functioning of a new medical device or its mechanism of action.
  • Anatomy 4D —  Gives medical professionals, students, and teachers an interactive, 4D understanding of the human anatomy with respect to spatial relationships of organs, skeleton, and muscles.
  • MEVIS Surgery App —Developed by Fraunhofer MEVIS, it offers virtual 3D reconstruction of real organs. Surgeons use it to perform liver resections using overlaid images displayed on an iPad that help in locating blood vessels or tumors.
  • MedicAR — A Google Glass app for surgeons to properly align incision points for less patient trauma. It is expected to be used in complex surgeries and MRI exams.

AR Technology Is in Nascent Stages of Market Penetration 

The AR market, is in its early development stage but is growing quickly—especially in the last two years. Diverse AR content from various fields and more affordable consumer solutions are expected in the next five years. AR enterprise applications and subscriptions will boost revenue for start-ups.

Many industries are expected to turn to AR as the primary source of multisensory instruction and for the of standard operating procedures for workforce safety. Medical education and staff training is bound to remain the principal use of AR in health care.

Behavioral and psychological health problems are being addressed through AR technologies that create engaging and motivational environments; immersive technologies also are fostering empathy between patients and their caregivers and helping in understanding and treatment of diseases. The USC Center for Body Computing, for example, has devised a Virtual Care Clinic system that combines AR, analytics, and artificial intelligence technologies with mobile apps, wearable sensors, and virtual human health care providers to give patients comprehensive access to medical care and content from anywhere in the world. The system features an app for connecting patients with an avatar of their primary physician that guides patients through the different courses of their medical care.

Privacy Concerns and Depth Perception Challenges Need to Be Resolved for Widespread Adoption of AR Technology

Privacy issues are the main barrier to AR technology’s widespread adoption in the health care industry. Doctors worry about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance because data transmitted to AR devices is not encrypted, making confidential patient information vulnerable. 

Depth perception also is another concern. It is an important component of many augmented reality applications and many times and AR displays do not display the depth of virtual objects with the same fidelity as real objects. Therefore technical issues such depth perception,  developing robust registration and tracking methods,  designing interactive user interfaces to intuitively control virtual and real parts of the scene and integrating AR technology into medical workflows, needs to be resolved for widespread adoption of this technology. 

What Is the Future?

The AR market will resemble the smartphones market, thus targeting a huge population worldwide. The AR ecosystem is witnessing an influx of software and hardware manufacturers and mobile data and voice businesses, with a large number of mergers and acquisitions already. This reflects the immense interest in this technology from all quarters.

AR companies must address regulatory and privacy concerns to be successful in  the health care space, which will benefit from AR-assisted surgeries, staff training, and in-patient behavioral and rehabilitation programs

By 2020, the health care industry will be among the first to realize the benefits of AR technologies on human behavior, patient experience, and lifesaving interventions. By 2025, consumers will be able to thoroughly analyze their health and well-being in real time through AR-based apps, giving them a snapshot of how time and unhealthy lifestyles would affect their bodies. 

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