Med Tech

How can VR-AR technologies help improve the future of healthcare?

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are technologies that blend real-world components with virtual ones. These approaches are particularly useful for making people aware of the prototypes or helping them understand the workings of any item that has not yet been fully constructed. Although at first glance AR and Virtual Reality (VR) may appear to be similar, there are some key differences. 

AR consolidates and enhances some aspects of the individuals’ actual environment into its results, with the most popular example being the Pokemon GO game released in 2016. VR provides a more immersive experience with the help of the required headsets by enabling the wearer to experience everything happening inside the headset. Both technologies typically respond to real-time changes, such as how a person moves and seek to give people experiences that are not possible to achieve quickly in the real world alone. 

There’s plenty of potential for VR and AR in healthcare. Surgical planning could become easier. VR and AR can help surgeons plan any kind of interventions, making them less likely to encounter surprises or feel unprepared. Researchers and surgeons can use VR to educate patients before their surgeries. The patient can see a digitized version of their organ, along with the problem the surgeon needs to fix and how they will do it. Through AR, surgeons can take instant X-rays and 3D scans and control the complete interventional solution space with voice recognition, eye tracking and advanced gestures. 

A digital twin can be made using AR and VR technologies. In the pre-operative planning phase, the physician can make a detailed plan using AR modelling, evaluate a virtual organ, check what are the problems with it, and simulate the functional performance to predict the clinical outcome of the procedure. Through AR glasses the surgeon can visualise the movement of the catheter, adjust it accordingly and perform instant measurements. The digital twin uses AI and modelling techniques for precision diagnostics and treatment, using big data sets and complex calculation models for which we need simple tools that make the use and interaction simple and intuitive. AR/VR is a natural fit to provide advanced visualization and interaction tools to a digital twin environment. 

Some technologies show digital information appearing on top of a patient’s body in real-time and could also help to improve training in medical school. An AR tool was developed by researchers at John’ Hopkins University which enabled medical students to visualise an internal view of the body on top of a student’s physique. The technology also included a gesture-sensitive user interface, allowing people to interact with the AR representation. 

In medical imaging, VR provides better planning and supports patient safety by reducing their exposure to radiation dose as the process of building a radiation therapy plan for patients is a very time-consuming, complex exercise. VR has the potential to evaluate the dosage in an intuitive way, saving planning time with potentially greater precision and fewer side effects of the treatment. In the examination room, AR technology delivers information through the virtual screen, in real-time. Rather than stopping and looking at a monitor, the information is right in front of the physician’s eyes,  allowing for faster and intuitive decision making. 

There are many other examples of AR-VR adoption in healthcare, changing everything from the way medical students learn before interventional procedures to helping patients with PTSD and reducing anxiety in children undergoing blood tests or other painful procedures. As patients remain in isolation, healthcare organizations might consider launching or increasing VR programs for self-guided rehabilitation exercises and addressing chronic pain. 

Virtual care, or at least hybrid models of in-person and virtual, will likely be the future of healthcare. Forward-thinking systems should consider having a fleet of VR headsets at their disposal for a variety of applications. However, access to 5G networks and 5G-enabled devices is a major barrier to wider use of AR and VR in healthcare, which needs to be addressed. 

Communication, simulation, treatment and research in healthcare have been amplified by various technological advancements. The use of AR/VR in healthcare will be highly beneficial for intraoperative surgery, training of healthcare professionals, physiotherapy, better diagnosis, anatomy, visualization etc. Reality technologies can also be used to record some and replay some of the best surgeries to students so that they can get the first-hand experience of it.

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