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The digital era is well and truly upon us, with over 2.1 billion people owning a smartphone globally. Yet one industry that has been trailing behind in this digital revolution is healthcare. But as big tech companies (Google, Apple, Amazon etc.) jump on the band wagon and look to blend healthcare processes and their products together, this could all be set to change.

And one of the main areas these companies are looking at? The use of augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

We’ve all heard of virtual reality, but for some augmented reality is a totally new concept. So what exactly is it?

According to Wikipedia, it’s ‘an interactive experience of a real-world environment whereby the objects that reside in the real-world are “augmented” by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory’.

The definition of virtual reality comes from the definitions for both ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. The definition of ‘virtual’ is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So the term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’. This could mean anything - but it usually refers to a specific type of reality emulation.

In 2016, the Global Augmented and Virtual Reality in Healthcare Market was valued at $510 million, with this figure predicted to grow to $8,313 million by 2025. When both virtual and augmented reality are combined this is known as mixed reality. These all have benefits to the healthcare sector, including supporting medical education and training, corporate communication, enhanced patient care and treatment, managing lifestyle and wellness, surgical planning and much more.

How can AR help healthcare?

Through Dynamic Interactive Learning – this helps when a patient struggles to understand things in 2D, so an interactive version makes more sense to them.

Through prosthetics – AR can be used to overlay prosthetics and other medical implants onto a patient so they get a better understanding of what it would look like.

For product visualisation – this will enable a patient to view all the details about a product through their smart phone or smart glasses – again, probably in a 3D format – allowing a better understanding of the product without having to actually see it in real life.

Our top finds for current uses of AR / VR in healthcare:

SMART GLASSES – Although these have been around for a while now, they’re being used increasingly more within the healthcare sector. Surgeons and clinicians are using smart glasses to allow them to go “hands free” so to speak. By viewing patient details within their smart glasses this removes the need to hold documents / files, allowing them to focus better on complex tasks.

ACCUVEIN – People with difficult veins know the annoyance of being prodded and probed by a healthcare professional trying to locate their blood flow. AccuVein is a handheld device that can scan the vein network, allowing them to become visual under the patient’s skin using AR. This device has seen a reduction in patient pain, improvement in first attempt accuracy, and a saving in healthcare costs.

GO SURGERY – London-based company Digital Surgery has created a new augmented reality programme to assist surgeons in the operating theatre. The technology can help doctors during complex operations while also allowing them to share expertise about procedures with other doctors around the world. They’re currently in talks with the multi-billion dollar US company Magic Leap to develop the new application for their futuristic, mixed reality headset.

MICROSOFT MIXED REALITY GLASSES – These have been used by surgeons at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool to view patient information while operating on them. These holographic headsets combine both virtual reality and augmented reality to project interactive 3D holograms in the user’s field of vision.

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