Medical Augmented Reality – Previously we’ve looked at virtual reality and the benefits it has brought and will bring to the medical field.
As yet though, we haven’t looked into how augmented reality can benefit healthcare.
So let’s first start by defining augmented reality and how it differs from the more familiar concept of virtual reality.
Virtual reality is technology that allows the user to move their head and the image “in front” of them moves accordingly.
The image in question can be produced by something as expensive as a bespoke head-mounted display or something as low-cost as Google Cardboard.
And that image has absolutely nothing to do with real life, which means virtual reality is excellent for immersive experiences that we’ve discussed here
Augmented reality, on the other hand, starts off with images of the real world and then overlays those images with virtual information. No matter which direction the user moves their head in, first and foremost what they’re seeing is the real world around them.
And then anything can be added to these real-world images – from map markers to virtual games.
Perhaps the biggest difference between virtual and augmented reality is that virtual reality requires the display to stretch as far as possible across the user’s field of view for that immersive experience. Augmented reality, on the other hand, can be equally effective when viewed through an expensive head-mounted display or simply on the screen of a smartphone.
Pokemon Go, anyone?
But let’s move away from games involving millions of people staring at the landscape through their phone screen, and look at how augmented reality can benefit the medical world.
Medical Augmented Reality in Healthcare
In Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, physicians have been using Google Glass to read patients’ clinical data while speaking with them – and even during examinations. It keeps their hands free and gives them the information they need instantly. 1
Elsewhere in America and now here in the UK, the Accuvein augmented reality system is basically a handheld scanner that projects where veins, their valves and their bifurcations are in patients’ bodies, making blood drawing less stressful and IV insertions more accurate. 2
Several augmented reality companies have developed portable ultrasounds – very useful for use in developing countries – enabling technician and patients alike to view ultrasound images through smart glasses. 3
Medical Augmented Reality in Medical Education
Dr Alexis Jenny PhD used Augment, a commercial augmented reality system to defend his Université de Strasbourg thesis on how medicine and specifically dentistry could benefit from the use of AR.
His dissertation was so successful that the university introduced Augment into their classrooms for classwork and practicals. 4
Medical Augmented Reality in Medical Surgery
Neurosurgery in particular benefits from augmented reality, since compared to other body parts, the brain is much more fixed and static. So AR can create a reference image of the brain superimposed onto the brain that’s being operated on at the time, simplifying what would otherwise be a complex procedure. 5
Medical Augmented Reality in Healthcare Marketing and Advertising
We’re told that Johnson and Johnson spent $17.5 billion on marketing and advertising in the year 2013. 6 How much of that went to waste through cancelled doctor visits and visits that resulted in no sales has yet to be calculated, but it’s sure to be a staggering amount of money.
How much more cost-effective would it be for a doctor to simply use augmented reality to scan the packaging of new healthcare products delivered to their desktop – in their own time and at their leisure?
This way, they would get the information they need about the product and base their buying decision on that information.
There would be no need for appointments to be made (or broken) and so the savings made through this type of marketing could be passed on to some other department – perhaps even R&D.
Medical Augmented Reality is certainly starting to make its mark on healthcare, and is expected to become a $90 billion dollar industry by 2020. 7