For a while now, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have all been making waves in the healthcare community. As new advancements in diagnostics, treatment and pain management are made thanks to the revolutionary new technologies, new doors are opening that pave the way to a better future.
As we move into the second half of the year, we thought it was high time we take a look at how these new technologies are being embraced in modern healthcare, what some of the most exciting innovations of the year have been, and what the future may hold.
Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) can be an incredibly powerful tool within the healthcare industry, particularly when it comes to surgery or other areas that make it difficult for doctors to see what is going on.
Recent research in Washington into VR has developed a new solution that allows surgeons to see inside a patient’s blood vessels in full 3D during surgery, using a catheter and electromagnetic sensors to create full maps.
Doctors often need to be able to manoeuvre catheters through blood vessels very precisely in order to treat conditions like blood clots, strokes and cancer, but when the surgeon is essentially ‘flying blind’, it’s a slow, complex process, and usually has to involve extensive X-Ray imaging.
While more effective, it still leaves surgeons working with 2D, black and white images to navigate through a living person. But by simple attaching sensors to the catheter and hooking them up to a VR system, surgeons can now see exactly what is going on inside the patient in real-time. This will allow such procedures to not only be quicker, but safer.
On the other side of the coin, training innovations are already working hard to improve the next generation of young doctors. For example, a company called Embodied Labs created a programme called ‘We Are Alfred’, which uses VR technology to show young medical students what ageing really means. Within the simulation, each student becomes ‘Alfred’ for seven minutes, and experiences how it feels to live as a 74-year-old man with audio-visual impairments.
The aim of the simulation is to solve the disconnect between young doctors and elderly patients, in the hopes of improving both empathy and overall care. Similar simulations are also being used to train young doctors about the world of giving birth. The University of Newcastle has used multiple VR technologies to help students understand anatomy changes of foetuses, train in birthing techniques and run through real-world emergency scenarios.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) has helped develop medical science and training in a lot of ways — from overlaying visuals of the nervous system onto patients to ensure procedures are done correctly, to helping medical students learn anatomy. But one of the newer and more exciting areas AR has been launched in, is brain surgery.
The new techniques, pioneered by US-based company Magic Leap and Munich based company Brainlab, use AR to augment the skills of brain surgeons as they work, making complex surgeries like removing brain tumours a much simpler task.
In one demonstration video, the company shows how AR helps surgeons in a process called craniotomy planning, where a surgeon uses an AR overlay to map out surgical routes onto the skin, bone and dura of a patient. The solution is designed to help enable surgical planning and simulation within an office environment.
Since initial testing has been such a success, the company is already expanding the solution to also include a mix of virtual and physical worlds for the operating room, radiotherapy room, intensive care unit and radiology suite. With this technology, surgeons can act quickly and with more confidence, with a clear view of what’s ahead.
Also in the world of AR, there is a system called ProjectDR, which essentially allows practitioners to ‘see through the patient’s skin’ by overlaying information such as MRI scans, X-Rays, CT scans and more onto the patient’s body. But this goes far further than just a static image.
Thanks to the incredible code in the solution, the images move as the patient moves and react accordingly, giving doctors a full view of the patient’s internal anatomy without having to cut them open. This has the power to revolutionise many areas of medicine and healthcare, from surgical planning and accuracy, rehabilitation, laparoscopic surgery, physiotherapy and even education.
This video shows the solution in action, and even how the solution has the ability to segment images, allowing doctors to see exactly what they need to see, while the body moves in a way that a patient does.
The Future Of Immersive Technology
As you can see, there are already some amazing new technologies out there that have been made possible by VR and AR technologies. More and more innovations are coming to market every day, and the healthcare industry is at the forefront of many new developments. But in many ways, these cutting-edge solutions are just the beginning.
As VR, AR and mixed reality (MR) become more widely accepted and used, more and more use cases will come to light, presenting the healthcare industry with even more opportunities to innovate and dramatically improve the quality of care patients receive.
At Orbital Media, we spend a lot of our time helping brands create ground-breaking VR, AR and MR solutions that can improve healthcare outcomes across the board.
We have already helped many healthcare brands create new solutions, from pain management to virtual pharmacies and healthcare education, and we would love to help you too. Just get in touch with the team today to arrange your free consultation.