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How and Why AR and VR Should Be Used in Healthcare

Posted on Aug 3, 2018

VR/AR in healthcare

VR/AR technologies are widely used in the medical field and have been now for quite some time.

  • To train. Virtual training courses are now being used to test skills and knowledge using a specialized platform, such as Surgical Theater. VR is also currently being used to train surgeons. Virtual reality helps physicians train to perform laparoscopic surgeries and other operations using the da Vinci robotic system. Models of the affected organ and surgical instrument are created to be used by the physician. Impulses are customized in such a way so that the surgeon tactilely senses the operation process and can see changes in the "organ" with each movement. It replaces training on the human body.
  • To replace anesthesia. Virtual reality is an option when the use of anesthesia is impossible or not required. There are specially designed games and videos made to calm down patients during procedures and distract them from any discomfort.
  • To solve psychological problems. With the help of VR/AR, it is possible to immerse the user in an emotional virtual environment for training and overcoming fear--for example, to overcome certain phobias (project My MRI).
  • To assist in performing real operations. The first world operation using VR technology took place in a London hospital.
  • To design and visualize the human body when performing cosmetic and plastic surgeries (project ILLUSIO).
  • To assist patients in recovering after surgery (project MindMaze). If a patient has suffered an illness that has affected coordination or reflexes, rehabilitation on the VR-simulator could be a useful option. The rehabilitation program includes exercises for coordination and improvement of movements, such as balance exercises. The system monitors the progress and corrects the program course as needed.
  • To be used to draw blood or for injections. AccuVein, a scanner based on the augmented reality, creates a map of the venous system and precisely projects its location and shape onto the skin’s surface. This simplifies the injection and blood drawing process. The technology increases the percentage of a successful first stick by 3.5 times.

VR/AR for treatment and prevention

AR and VR in healthcare could also be used to help make diagnoses and spread prevention awareness.

The results of tomography can already be viewed on a monitor from different angles and in different resolutions. This makes the use of virtual equipment and/or augmented reality the logical next advancement in diagnostic tools. 

VR/AR could also assist in spreading awareness about disease prevention. Even in the most modern of clinics, preventive information pamphlets are often displayed at the front desk. A modern approach to offering this information would be incorporating VR/AR technologies instead. This type of update would increase visitor engagement and offer comprehensive information to the patient in an interactive way.

VR could be helpful in identifying possible health complications as well. With just a monitor, camera and corresponding software, a visitor would be able to get a list of diagnoses depending on their symptoms.   

Augmented reality could also be used to explain how certain health problems develop, how they manifest, and what needs to be done to prevent their occurrence.

Visitor interaction with AR systems at medical facilities is carried out with the help of gestures. The clinic or hospital would be able to record the involvement of visitors and offer them services based on their needs.


VR/AR for rehabilitation and operations

VR and AR technologies will most likely serve a vital role in rehabilitation programs. For example, when a patient learns to walk or move his hand after an operation, virtual reality could offer necessary exercises (for example, development of fine motor skills) as well as record achievements in a format understandable to the attending physician.

The results achieved by the patient would be used by the attending physician to adjust the recovery process.

We cannot forget about the use of AR and VR for surgeries as well. In addition to being incorporated into larger projects, there are also small start-ups using this type of technology, supervised by practicing physicians. Implant surgeon, Ph.D. (Medicine) Anton Gerasimov independently constructed a 3D microscope using VR. This project was not highly publicized, but its existence proves the popularity of AR and VR among doctors.

"I have been operating my patients using VR for four years already. I designed the equipment myself, which is VR-glasses and a small mounted microscope with two cameras. An enlarged 16-fold image of the operated area in 3D resolution is broadcasted on the glasses display. The picture is transmitted without delay in time. I did not succeed in achieving this immediately: I tried many options before I got the full immersion effect. Now I can install an implant or perform other surgical procedures in hard-to-reach places, focusing only on VR-glasses. I believe surgery, including dentistry, will actively develop in the direction of virtual reality. Of course, this will take more than a year, and perhaps more than a decade, but the fact that the future of medicine is for VR is quite obvious ", he says.


Experts on AR and VR in healthcare

Dary Merckens, Gunner Technology

"We've worked with numerous leading healthcare companies involved with everything from durable medical equipment to primary care. The most promising use of VR and AR we've seen is in training. What has historically been relegated to teaching hospitals associated with universities could be expanded to infinitely reproducible scenarios using VR and AR. Instead of depending on the availability of patients, you could simply create different scenarios to have doctors and nurses interact with. This is truly a game changer for the medical industry and the quality of care will improve exponentially thanks to it."

Blair Newman, Chief Technology Officer, Bell Integrator

"We are seeing a lot of options to use VR/AR in medicine: surgical navigation systems, venipuncture procedures, simulation of vision, empowered brain for disabled, AR-enabled documentation, training, games for kids, indoor navigation to name a few.

AR can help surgeons become more efficient at surgeries. Whether they are conducting a minimally invasive procedure or locating a tumor in liver, AR healthcare apps can help save lives and treat patients seamlessly.

Nurses find veins on the first stick 3.5x more likely with Augmented Reality. Doctors can show a simulation of a patient’s vision. For instance, the app can demonstrate the impact of Cataract or AMD and thus help patients understand their actual medical state.

AR transforms wearables into neuro-assistive devices for the educational challenges of autism to help children with their social skills, language, and positive behaviors. AR helps visually impaired to live a more independent life, navigating them and describing the environment they are in.

AR enables doctors to view critical work information right in their field-of-view and interact with it, so physicians do not have to check their computers during patient visits, while medical notes are still generated in real time. As a result, the burden of administration on medical professionals is eased: they can leave their workplace on time every day, complete the administrative requirements easily, while they can still diagnose and treat more patients.

Doctors can turn their business cards to their patient medical record to be easily accessible from anywhere. Whenever a patient needs to urgently contact the doctor, they can scan a card and push the call-to-action buttons to instantly call or text their doctor.

For medical students AR provides a better and more realistic training simulation. AR can provide training content, simulation-based training exercises, decision support tool, and “telestrated” virtual instructional support.

For kids AR has incredible potential to transform the hospital environment, reducing isolation from friends and family outside the hospital. AR gaming enhances the patient experience and encourages fine motor movement. For example, it can bring coloring pages or photo walls to life. AR entertains young patients going through difficult experiences. The technology helps them lie still and relaxed during MRI procedures by redirecting their attention away from their illnesses and medical testing to something more fun and pleasant.

AR can also be used for indoor navigation to help patients and their visitors find their way to their destinations easily."

Ilit Gluska, Senior Account Executive Blonde 2.0

"The somewhat uncomfortable (and endless) discussion about the need to practice medicine on real bodies, animals and even humans is changing quickly these days. Thousands of years after Hippocrates, ‘the founder of medicine’ showed the old world how to learn and observe the human body, we're finally seeing change.

With virtual reality and augmented reality, a medical student can now observe internal organs, learn them, and actually practice medicine virtually. This is the first, important and highly effective step towards using augmented reality as a new tool in modern medicine. VR provides the ability to operate on a patient while the surgeon sees the patient, but also can receive additional information related to the specific patient in real time during the operation.

A secondary doctor can also sit outside of the room (or even outside of the country), and be the surgeon's ‘third hand’, observing and providing recommendations throughout the live operation. Most operations today are carried out with big teams in the operation room surrounding the patient's bed. The support from VR/AR technology will dramatically change the operation room and reduces the team's physical presence that creates a crowded environment, susceptive to mistakes and malfunctions."