Advances in computer technology regularly disrupt the status quo these days.
Still, when it comes to the future and the “next big thing,” it can sometimes be challenging to separate the hype and conjecture from actual, tangible developments.
As the healthcare industry implements advanced technology to improve processes and offer more help to patients in efficient, accurate manners, experts are constantly looking to the best innovative solutions being released in tech.
One surprising tool that will more likely become a regular new member of your healthcare workforce will be augmented reality devices.
While these are common in gaming and other industries, they’re finding their place in healthcare for the benefit of physicians, nurses, administrators, and patients.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (AR) is a method of using computers and advanced information technology to provide additional information about the physical world.
It’s also being used in healthcare today to assist with surgery, training, and more.
Currently, several apps are available that make use of augmented reality for healthcare purposes.
For instance, there’s a tool that assists with finding veins when inserting an IV line.
Created by AccuVein, the tool projects an image of a person’s veins onto their skin.
So far, the device has been used on more than 10 million patients, and the company claims it improves the odds of hitting a vein on the first try by 3.5 times.
This will help practitioners administering vaccines, or drawing samples.
It will also limit the discomfort that patients commonly experience during these procedures.
Microsoft’s AR tech, HoloLens, is a headset that overlays a digital layer on top of the physical world.
The potential applications for this tech in the medical field are broad.
Case Western Reserve University students use the tech to learn about anatomy using 3D models.
This method offers more efficiency and convenience in training medical students, as it offers hands-on training without as much need to use cadavers or other limited resources.
Remote Surgery Assists
In remote areas, hours from the nearest city, when a doctor runs into an unexpected problem, getting help would involve consulting with someone over the phone and needing to understand how to approach the issue with verbal instructions.
Now, with AR programs available, doctors separated by miles can see what’s happening in real-time, using various digital collaboration tools.
One case study looked at how doctors in the United States worked with doctors in Uganda to provide surgical support from thousands of miles away.
The potential of AR promises to be revolutionary, but for now, it’s being used to enhance only some processes in healthcare.
Currently, AR is becoming a common facet of surgery preparation to help better prepare doctors.
One application uses a HoloLens headset to overlay MRI and CT scan data on a patient’s body to assist in visualization.
Covid and AR
At Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, staff members were confronted with the problem of keeping staff safe while treating Covid-infected patients.
Despite taking all the necessary precautions, staff members were still being infected by the virus.
Staff at the hospital were familiar with HoloLens, having previously used it for surgery, and realized it could help keep employees safe by isolating the patient while still administering their treatment.
One doctor, wearing an AR headset, would work on the patient while support staff remained in another room.
Through a feed from the HoloLens headset, employees could see what the doctor saw and provide support and assistance.
Startups in AR for Healthcare
Several companies are working on applying the potential of augmented reality technology to support the needs of healthcare professionals in their field.
From training to medical imaging to hands-free collaboration, these companies are carving a path into the future of computer-assisted healthcare:
Medical training focuses on BioFLightVR, which applies virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree video to training scenarios.
The company works with hospitals and universities to create training programs and labs that teach proper procedures and methods.
Virtual reality uses headsets to immerse a person in a digital or virtual environment.
When participating in VR, a physician or surgeon can work through a difficult procedure or learn a new technique without worrying about harming a patient or using up limited resources for practice.
This VR approach will help to offer hands-on experience so healthcare professionals can practice treating patients or conducting surgeries more conveniently and efficiently.
Using medical imaging, EchoPixel displays 3D models in a holographic manner, allowing doctors to interact with models much the same way they would interact with physical objects.
The applications include better preoperative planning that gives doctors a better understanding of the problem they are about to deal with.
Promoted as a “virtual scrub-in,” Proximie enables doctors to assist or monitor procedures from anywhere.
The tech allows doctors to demonstrate physical motions, such as incision points, without actually being in the room.
The software is designed to be platform-independent, meaning they can provide solutions tailored to each hospital's AR hardware.
As companies continue to develop augmented reality applications and improve their hardware, we are sure to see many more applications for AR introduced to enhance healthcare processes.
As doctors and nurses adopt AR in hospitals, their feedback and ideas will help to push the technology in new and ever more helpful directions.
Improving First Aid and Other Emergency Services
3D digital interactive holograms used to be science fiction but are now a reality.
In the same way, things we once thought impossible or too far-fetched are increasingly falling within the realm of possibility, thanks to advances in computer science.
Augmented reality can help with medical issues beyond the walls of a hospital, too.
For instance, a mobile phone app uses the device’s camera to show the real world on the screen, then overlays that view with information about the location of the nearest defibrillator device.
Programs like AED4EU can help first aid responders act fast by knowing where to locate an AED and even a facility’s emergency phone lines.
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