How VR and AR Will Change Healthcare

Anastasia Morozova
Chief Operating Officer

Virtual and augmented reality technologies have been turning into favorite tools that significantly influence various industries including healthcare.

About a decade ago, we could only imagine our health being improved by these innovations.

According to Arizton, the VR/AR healthcare market share will reach the value of $3 billion by 2023. Despite the fact that both VR and AR are only gaining momentum in healthcare, various medical organizations have already been experimenting with these technologies.

What kind of benefits will the use of VR/AR bring to the healthcare sector?

Surgery will be more technologically advanced

New techniques of visualization indeed significantly facilitate the intervention planning task. However, they can be applied only during the pre-operative stage. While conducting an operation, a surgeon must remember the intervention plan to follow it.

In addition, the surgeon relies on pre-operative patient’s inner body images and his own skills to conduct the intervention properly.

Computer-guided surgery closes the gap between pre-operative images and the way a surgeon conducts the operation. One of such solutions is ARGUS.

The goal of the ARGUS system is to assist a surgeon during the intervention planning by displaying in real-time both pre-operative computer tomography and intra-operative ultrasound data in the form of 3D objects using optically tracked augmented reality glasses.

The ARGUS project can be used either as an orientation tool for planning the surgery or modifying previously plans in the surgical theatre when something goes wrong.

It allows the collaboration between surgeons and radiologists by providing them with an audio and video connection to ensure a high quality of the operation.

Thus, a radiologist can interact with the augmented image while remotely assisting the surgeon.

Furthermore, this system can significantly increase the accuracy of operations and ensures the minimally invasive surgery.

Medical training will be more effective

To be able to conduct operations accurately, students must have enough experience, but, to get experience, they have to participate in operations guided by professional surgeons. It’s a vicious circle with limited access to operating rooms.

With VR, operating rooms no longer have limited access. This technology has already managed to revolutionize medical training.

Virtual reality allows creating realistic simulation systems and safe environments where medical students can get more experience without putting patients at risk.

Streaming operations in real-time for training purposes becomes a widespread practice for sharing knowledge.

In 2016, it was the first time of streaming a surgery in real-time. Students, as well as a curious public, could watch the 360-degree video of removing a cancer tumor.

VR video streaming significantly improves the level of medical training while being a cost-effective method of raising a new educated generation of surgeons.

This approach provides special benefits for both medical students and patient’s family members who worry about their relatives.

Patients will become more motivated to make positive changes

Augmented Reality is currently widely used in various medical training solutions. At the same time, AR technology had never been used to educate patients.

Explaining the potential consequences of having negative habits to patients can be challenging. Showing them these consequences can greatly motivate people to have a healthy lifestyle.

Despite the fact that we have repeatedly heard about the negative effect of sitting in front of the computer screen for a long time, we can’t fully realize this until we experience this impact. The EyeDecide project allows users to feel what, for example, having a cataract means.

EyeDecide is a mobile app that uses a mobile device built-in camera and a display to show the impact of various conditions on user’s vision.

This project teaches users about eye anatomy, vision principles, best practices of how to save their vision, and helps them find a good ophthalmologist.

Using images and annotation, EyeDecide describes eye conditions, symptoms, and provides treatment tips.

The app also offers different medical specialists taking into account a user’s location. Users can sort generated offers using special filters like language or specialty.

People will become more physically healthy

The benefits of regular running for those people who have no contraindications for it is hard to overestimate. However, many people find using a treadmill annoying even while listening to favorite music.

What if we could explore new places, cities, or even galaxies while running? That would much motivate us to go in for sports every day.

Infinadeck is the first omnidirectional treadmill in the world. It enables users to walk or run through virtual environments. With a VR HMD, the capabilities for immersive environments are endless and only limited by the imagination of designers.

Unlike typical treadmills, Infinadeck enables users to run in any direction (360 degrees) with the maximum speed of 6 mph. Its sensors help the treadmill ensure the correct dislocation of runners at the center of the platform thereby ensuring their safety at any time.

Infinadeck has two motors that allow users to move in three directions: forward, backward, and diagonally. Furthermore, users can jump and crouch on the platform since it has its own support system and straps for user safety.

Infinadeck can be very useful in physical therapy. It helps patients faster recover from various traumas and ensures a better dynamic balance for patients who have Parkinson’s disease.

More people will get access to acute pain management

It’s a known fact that pain first appears in our head. It means that it’s just a brain reaction on some negative conditions that can be harmful to our health.

A number of researchers show that virtual reality technology can greatly help with pain management.

A recent meta-analysis showed that patients while exploring virtual environments felt less pain than 82% of those who didn’t take any measures to reduce pain.

VR makes patients perceive pain in another way. If the cause of pain cannot be eliminated or strong medication helps no more, virtual reality helps patients concentrate their attention on other things, and this way gets distracted from the pain.

With repeated VR exposures, the positive effect of pain reduction remains which potentially makes the VR technology a method of treatment rather than one-time painkiller or ‘fun’ experience.

Thus, VR can lead to the reduction of using medications and, as a result, their negative effect on other human organs.

In short, VR uses the same method that our parents applied when we were kids. They tried to attract our attention to another activity or a small gift to make use stop crying.

For instance, a startup called AppliedVR created a platform with a set of entertaining VR games and relaxing landscapes to help users forget about their pain by letting them focus on their VR experience.

At Buena Vista Ambulatory Surgery Center, doctors suggested a child scheduled for the removal of a tumor taking on a VR HMD instead of applying typical anesthesia.

The VR headset drew back his attention from the operation by entertaining him while eliminating the need for drugs.

Therapy will be accessible for patients who are not able to leave their homes for standard treatment

Most of us have experienced some stress caused by various reasons like issues at work, personal life, etc. It could have a different level of light to extremely deep. However, one of the most complicated cases is a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, 20% of people within the U.S. have a mental disorder including those who currently don’t feel stress.

Over the last decade, medical organizations have been experimenting with virtual reality as a tool to maintain a virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET).

Although, since the use of VR technology used to be expensive, it wasn’t widespread. With emerging affordable VR hardware like head-mounted displays, immersive exposure becomes a usual practice for treating mental disorders.

For instance, Bravemind, a VR app has been used in numerous institutions across the world including the U.S. Marine corps.

The Bravemind VR system includes a controllable and customizable VR environment, a vibrotactile platform for stimulating sensations associated with various stressful conditions like explosions, and scent machine able to emit various smells to create a maximum realistic experience.

This VR system helps patients gradually get rid of their fears, stress, or depression by virtually putting them in stressful situations in a controlled environment and enabling them to face their fears and learn to fight them.

A number of studies prove the effectiveness of this system.

For instance, a study published on the website of the National Center of Biotechnology information showed that a single VR therapy was as effective as applying both drug and VR therapies.

VR AR in healthcare

Post-surgery recovery will change dramatically

Post-surgery recovery is usually associated with a high level of stress when waking after an operation. Furthermore, patients typically feel the anxiety right before their operation when they find themselves in an unknown environment with strange sounds.

Most patients suffer from a post-operative delirium, especially when their condition was critical before surgery. The more complicated a surgery is, the more time a patient will need to recover when it’s over.

So Mr. Sunil Bhudia, a cardiologist from London, created a solution to help patients familiarise the environment and reduce confusion when they wake up.

His system uses a VR headset to show patients a video explanation of a typical surgical process, starting with the patient’s delivery to the operating room, to connect them to the intensive care unit (ITU) prior to surgery.

The 360-degree video is displayed from a patient’s point of view to familiarize them better with the environment they will be in during their surgery.

Final Thoughts

Both AR and VR create excellent opportunities for improving the healthcare industry in 2019 as well as further years. As technologies become more sophisticated, a number of medical tasks can be accomplished in a more efficient way than ever before.

Medical staff training, surgeries, motivating to have a healthy lifestyle, pain management, PTSD treatment, and post-surgery recovery are some of the important aspects of healthcare that can be significantly improved by innovative technologies.

Indeed, we all become witnesses of the new era of effective and technologically improved medicine where everything will focus on our comfort besides treating and saving lives.

We welcome healthcare organizations to discuss the ways augmented or virtual reality can be used in their curricula.

We can help to plan the project, adjust it to the budget, and suggest the most optimal functionality and tools to achieve the highest effectiveness using augmented or virtual reality.

Contact us for more details and let’s help the humankind together!

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