What is the Role of Augmented Reality in Healthcare?

Posted on 24/04/2024

You might have heard the term "Augmented Reality or AR" but may have never realized what it means, especially when it comes to the medical application in healthcare. However, if you have played the popular online game "Pokémon Go", you might know what Augmented Reality is. Pokémon Go App lets you go around your neighbourhood "catching" wild Pokémon that look on the screen as though they've popped up right in front of you.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are closely related. In both, you can take part in a computerized virtual world that appears in front of you, whether it's on your phone screen or a headset. However, both virtual reality and augmented reality are different in terms of the fact presented.

Augmented reality is exceptional and helpful in medicine because it merges virtual images with the real world, including real objects and people. This means your surgeon, doctor, or nurse could see things in front of them using augmented reality that they otherwise couldn't.

For example; veins running through your arm, a broken bone, brain tumor, X-ray, or health records. All these things can be seen in front of them on a screen in a fraction of seconds without taking their attention away from you.

In this blog, we will discuss:
  • What is AR technology?
  • What are the fields in Healthcare?
  • Where can AR technology are applied?
  • What are the benefits of AR in comparison to traditional methods?
  • Problems in the implementation of the AR Technology?
  • How worthy it is to apply AR technology and introduce it into the Healthcare System as an advanced mode of delivery and performance?

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented Reality is the process of integration of digital information into the user's natural environment. In AR technology, the user interacts with virtual objects placed in the real world. Three essential components of AR are:

1. Integration of Real and Virtual world 

2. Interaction with the objects in real-time 

3. Registration in 3D

Various Healthcare Fields Where Augmented Reality is Applied

Augmented Reality has lots of potentials to impact medicine. AR is applied in:

  • The primary care clinic
  • Operating room
  • Emergency room
  • Dental office

Different Types of Augmented Reality

  • Optical See-Through AR, where a Vertical Head-mounted system is used to project virtual objects in the real world.
  • Virtual Retina System, where Image is formed on the retinas.
  • Video See-Through where Opaque HMD is used to display merged videos.
  • Monitor Based Display where AR objects and annotations are displayed on a monitor screen.
  • Projection Based AR is described as a video projection technique, which can extend and reinforce visual data by throwing images on the surface of 3D objects or space.

Augmented Reality Fields of Application in Healthcare

  • For Medical Education
  • AR is mainly used where objects have to be viewed. The best component of the AR technology used in Medical Education is its ability to let users interact with the models in any environment. Anything having limited instant access to vision can be viewed and interacted with. One of the best applications of AR technology is in Human Anatomy to understand every bone, muscle, organ and nerve.

    AR technology significantly improves the user's spatial memory, leading to a better understanding of body parts. The primary utilisation of this technology can be in the teaching and training space where spatial relations could be understood much better.

  • For Performing Surgeries
  • AR can serve as an alternative to cadavers by providing the frequent opportunity of surgeries. Augmented Reality can be used to visualise the complex human body during surgery. Patient-specific data is superimposed on the patient's body to provide accurate anatomy of the body. Usually, the surgeon can wear HMD to see the dynamics during the time of surgery. This reduces the time of surgery and saves expenses at the same time.  

    High-Resolution Computed Tomography can also be superimposed to visualise the internal dynamics of the lungs. As a result, surgeons will know where the organs, bones, muscles and nerves are before even making any cut. This will improve accuracy for injecting medicines. One of the advantages of AR in use for surgeries is that it provides real-time feedback.

  • To view Real-Time Patient-Specific Reports
  • Using Holo-lens or HMD, the CT or ultrasound details will not just be limited to 2D anymore.

    3D structure of the report can be superimposed on the patient's anatomy using Augmented Reality. This will make the treatment much more straightforward while doing the surgery. Augmented Reality is majorly used while learning surgeries. Not just the position is displayed; on the other hand, HMD is used to view the patient-specific 3D structures superimposed on Human Body. The result can be viewed in 3D after wearing the gadgets, which also enables 3D interaction.

    The entire process shoots up the accuracy and precision of the surgery. This has helped many hospitals to shorten surgery time and treat more patients in return.

  • For Surgery Stimulations
  • College students can use surgery Simulations in AR to practice surgeries before going out in the real world. This increases efficiency by more than 50 percent while performing actual surgeries. Using such technologies can bring down healthcare perfection. The high application has already been observed in Dental and Neurosurgery.

The AR application extends to:

  • Neurosurgery: To shorten down the area of surgery, students are trained via AR models to detect the specific area of the brain and apply the same during surgeries. AR gives the luxury to attempt the surgery multiple times to perform common brain surgeries. 
  • General Surgery: AR, while performing General Surgery, will give you all the minute details to get into the details of the organ. 
  • Orthopedic Surgery: Although Muscular-skeletal models are not often used in clinics, this holds great potential ahead. The entire virtual patient-specific model can be superimposed on the real body to check the movements.
  • Cardiovascular Surgery: With great use in cardio surgery, virtual 3D generated from echo reports (patient-specific) and various internal dynamics can be analysed with better precision and perfection.

Benefits from AR Technology

The various benefits of Augmented Reality in Healthcare include:

  • Better Understanding of Concepts
  • The subjects which involve high visualisations like Anatomy; Geography etc. is better understood in interactive 3D technology like Augmented Reality. Using the observation method, learners were subjected to two different conditions to learn anatomy—one, with web-based interaction and the other, with full-body interaction - both mediums in AR. According to the observation, it was observed that people with technology had longer retention of the subject. On the other hand, no significant difference was seen in short-time memory.

  • Better Clinical Decision Making
  • These days many AR applications are helping in Clinical Decision Making. This is of more importance in evidence-based medicine. While practising, the nurses and doctors can have already loaded a database of possible circumstances. AR interactive 3D models portray various events. With the help of AR technology, doctors and nurses can access many drugs and medical references to be applied in respective circumstances.

  • Improved Physical Task Performance
  • Experiments have shown that in medical, the candidates subjected to AR-based learning were better able to perform the physical task in surgery. This is because they are better able to transfer the learnings to the actual cadavers.  Also, the task was performed with higher accuracy.

  • Reduction in Teaching Hours
  • With the capability to teach and to visualise students directly in 3D, rather than teaching in 2D and then imagining it in 3D. This also leads to imagination error. On the other hand, 3D models in AR provide a direct visual of the body part.

Bottlenecks in the AR Technology

  • Implementation Cost:
  • Firstly, AR technology requires specially designed devices like HMD, which demands a considerable investment to implement such technology. 

    Secondly, the design of the technology can be developed only by skilled developers working for a long time in this field. This pushes up the cost of the product. However, as mobile phone penetration has increased exponentially, the first reason is not important anymore. Budget for Healthcare In many of the hospitals and Medical colleges, decision-makers are not ready to spend the required amount. The reason could be not enough awareness about the product and technology. They are not able to map the return for their investment.

  • Infrastructure 
  • Hospitals and Colleges lack the required infrastructure for the installation of  technology until now. However, as the technology is advancing in every aspect and people have started carrying their devices to learn digitally, there is a hope to this problem.

Conclusion

Augmented Reality has a transformational impact on Healthcare. This technology has various benefits and holds the potential to make healthcare more effective and efficient. Augmented Reality has an extraordinary impact in the healthcare education industry, providing real-time feedback and 3D interactive visuals enabling self-learning.

The AR technology will soon hold a good market in healthcare. Colleges and individuals will use it for self-learning, training and clinical purpose. Specialists will adopt AR technology for various medical surgeries and research.

Despite the challenges, experts say they expect to see more applications of augmented reality in medicine. But which technologies and uses will prove themselves in the clinic largely remains to be seen. You're likely to see rapid changes as technology companies' work to develop new uses for augmented reality, inside and outside the clinic.