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Practical Applications of Augmented Reality in Healthcare

Augmented reality has many practical applications in healthcare, however the technology still lacks widespread adoption.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Augmented reality (AR) has intriguing implications in healthcare, but practical applications of the technology are still lagging behind, leading healthcare organizations to put it on the backburner.

AR presents the user with a mixed reality by integrating or superimposing virtual elements over what the user is looking at in the real world. Users can build virtual environments such as an operating room, surgical site, patient anatomy, or therapeutic simulation.

Applications of AR have been developed by companies that specialize in virtual reality, according to a new report by Research and Markets. Most of the technologies the report covers have the ability to manipulate medical imaging data or other inputs to generate virtual environments or inject virtual elements, overlays, and other visualized information over the user's sight.

ABI research predicted that early AR adopters will move towards the beginning of their deployment. ABI report authors hypothesized that in 2018, the AR market will grow at a CAGR of 227 percent by 2021 as enterprises gain a better understanding of how the technology can benefit business.

The healthcare industry is expected to be one of the top verticals benefiting from AR in the near future, using some form of smartglasses.

AR can be used in any scenario where planning is involved. Healthcare organizations can use AR for designing infrastructure technology deployments and building renovations. However, it is mostly being sought after for education.

Healthcare organizations are looking to AR for educational and telehealth purposes to give users a more interactive experience when learning new, highly skilled tasks.

“The effective development of healthcare competencies poses great educational challenges. A possible approach to provide learning opportunities is the use of AR where virtual learning experiences can be embedded in a real physical context,” wrote the authors of Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education.

The Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education study found that ninety-six percent of the material studied claimed that AR is useful for improving healthcare education. The material outlined benefits of educational AR to include decreased amount of practice, reduced failure rate, improved performance accuracy, accelerated learning, and better understanding of special relationships.

AR has the potential to give surgeons a more realistic training experience, resulting in better surgeries. Surgeons discovering new procedures can also take advantage of the anatomy views AR offers.

While AR has many education benefits, the study also pointed out several drawbacks, including a lack of learning theories available to guide AR design and that traditional learning theories do not match up to the AR learning style.

A military medic training study using AR goggles to reduce preventable causes of death on the battle field found that medical students using the AI goggles were able to treat the cadaver model more accurately than students relying only on memory in a high pressure situation.

Many healthcare AR deployments include the use of smartglasses, which have lost popularity with consumers over the past several years but still have a place in medical AR.

Smartglasses can be used in a variety of ways, including walking patients through future surgical procedures and immersion therapy for patients that suffer with anxiety or phobias. They have the potential to collect much of the data clinicians need to use.

Organizations that use smartglasses implement them in operating rooms, patient bedsides, offices, and clinics to make it more convenient for clinicians to treat patients.  Clinicians using smartglasses can spend more time interacting with patients when they don’t have the distraction of entering information into an EHR.

Widespread implementation of AR in healthcare is still years away, but organizations can begin to realize the practical future applications of the technology.


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