The Potential Benefits of AR and VR in Medicine

A man using an AR version of the x-ray to his friend. / Photo by: Getty Images

 

Augmented reality and virtual reality continue to gain prominence in the world of technology. Many organizations, industries, and businesses are finding feasible and practical uses for this technology in their attempts to streamline processes and enhance working environments. Among the many industries which have benefited and continue to implement AR/VR on a grander scale within its environs is the medical industry. Various developments in these areas have impacted medical institutions in ways which have facilitated the improvement of some medical procedures, but there is a lot to be done still.

Indeed, some factors which especially surround the display of various organs and tissues within the body are yet to become optimal for doctors. An article on the Harvard Business Review by Sarah Murthi and Amitabh Varshney postulate that most medical advances have focused on diagnostic imaging, such as “ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging, computerized tomography, and mammography.” However, while the methods of imaging have been improved upon significantly, Sarah and Varshney argue that the methods of displaying these images continue to be an age-old standard involving 2D screens. The integration of AR and VR into such machinery is expected to significantly improve them and enable medical practitioners to effectively diagnose and administer treatment to their patients. 

A woman doing workout with VR goggles. / Photo by: Getty Images

 

Relaying Patient Information

One area which AR is set to improve significantly for medical practitioners is in the relay of a patient’s medical records at any point where it is deemed necessary. There are a number of vital patient info which doctors should know before both simple processes such as first aid and complex, lengthy procedures such as surgical operations. Information regarding a patient’s blood group, allergies, pre-existing medical conditions, current drug use and even next of kin are vital for doctors to administer proper treatment. According to an article in The Medical Futurist, the possibilities should not end there, either. “Yet, not only data but also other types of medical information, such as the location of veins or organs,” read the article. 

The provision of such information on the go can help doctors to make more accurate decisions during treatments and procedures. Sarah and Varshney point out that AR can make medical procedures outside operating rooms and medical environments both possible and effective. Medical operations on the bedside are known to be flimsy and chaotic, but AR can change the scenario dramatically. “A single AR display that integrates all imaging and patient data and allows doctors to keep their eyes on the patient can improve quality, safety and reduce costs,” read their article on HBR.

Another advantage which could be realized from AR-assisted operations is the reduction of redundant screens. Most machinery within hospital environments currently require their own screen to display information, a factor which has proven to be economically draining for both manufacturers and hospitals which purchase these machines. “It is not that different modes of imaging require special displays, but that the current economic model is to sell whole systems with incompatible imaging devices,” Sarah and Varshney explained. By implementing an interoperable AR component, a shared screen could be generated which would eliminate the need for dedicated screens on machinery and provide all the information a doctor would need more efficiently.

VR Therapy

 

Pain management has been one of the biggest medical challenges since time immemorial, with traditional medicine such as opioids being fatal in some cases. According to experts, however, VR could offer a therapeutic means of averting pain through analgesic means. Brian Chau, an editor at iMedical Apps, highlights VR therapy as one of the main points that were discussed at the 2018 Virtual Medicine Conference. “An increasing number of VR therapy providers are moving towards all-in-one digital pain kits,” explains Chau. These kits are reported to include nerve simulation units, activity trackers and breathing mechanism educators which induce breathing exercises which will all be employed in pain management.

 

VR Research

Suggestions for the provision of VR will make medical research much more convenient for scientists. Factors such as content development, trials of new treatment processes and methods as well as examination of pathogenic activity will be significantly improved by the use of VR. If organs and body tissues are simulated on virtual platforms, it could provide a better platform for learners and researchers to carry out their studies more effectively.

 

AR and VR are very much still in their infancy stages when it comes to implementation in many areas of the profession. For the medical world, however, many startups are popping up which show a promising future for the provision of better medical care worldwide. Hopefully, there will be breakthroughs in the near future which will facilitate better avenues for research, enable better and more detailed diagnosis and make access to information during an emergency a much easier process overall.