There are many potential uses for augmented reality in healthcare, in fields such as surgery, outpatient care, clinical trials and collaborative treatment, to name just a few. AR medical applications have already been introduced in healthcare facilities across the world and are making a difference every day. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are using augmented reality health software and AR medical devices daily to provide cutting-edge care and facilitate various procedures.
Hospital navigation apps are one of the most practical AR healthcare applications, particularly useful in larger medical facilities with dozens of departments spread over several different floors. With a smartphone app that displays the most direct route to any destination, superimposed over the view of your surroundings seen through a phone camera, finding your way to various clinics and departments should be a simple matter in even the largest of facilities.
Vera Concierge from Resonai is a good example of a hospital navigation app. It can also be configured to provide medical facilities with indepth data on patient flows in hospitals, helping to identify bottlenecks and allowing administrators to introduce measures aimed at alleviating them. Wayfinding apps like these are also used in retail spaces. They show people how to find the outlets they are looking for in large shopping malls and display relevant promotional information as shoppers move around.
When administering injections, taking blood samples or starting an intravenous drip, it can sometimes be difficult for medical personnel to locate a suitable vein. Augmented reality healthcare apps and devices that overlay a detailed map of veins onto patients' arms are designed to make it much easier for doctors and nurses to quickly find veins and complete these procedures successfully at the first attempt. When time is of the essence — such as when a patient requires an immediate adrenalin injection — this technology could save lives.
The AccuVein handheld scanner is a vascular visualisation device that is being used in medical facilities right now for a variety of different procedures that rely on the ability of healthcare staff to find suitable veins quickly and efficiently. It works on patients of all ages, regardless of skin tone or body type.
If you were having lunch with somebody who started to have a cardiac arrest, would you know what to do and, more importantly, where to take them? Most of us don’t think about the location of emergency healthcare facilities and devices until we really need them, by which time it can be too late. With apps like AED4EU, you can see the locations of nearby defibrillators by viewing your environment through your phone camera while the application is open, helping you to take immediate action.
In the future, apps that show the location of nearby hospitals and treatment centres could help people to access the medical services they need in a genuine emergency. If you are in a rural location, then phoning emergency services may be the fastest way to get help. In a busy city, making your own way to the nearest hospital could save valuable time and help you get expert assistance when you most need it.
Among the many possible applications for virtual and augmented reality in healthcare, guided treatment from remote specialists is one that could prove to be very useful to those who live in less populated areas where the nearest medical facility may be some distance away. Not all types of treatment can be selfadministered with guidance from a remote specialist, of course, but some healthcare services can easily be delivered in this manner. A patient could perform some forms of physiotherapy and certain emergency procedures by themselves, with guidance from a medical professional, or by another household member.
Devices such as Google Glass have been used in trials with breastfeeding mothers in Australia, enabling healthcare professionals to provide practical assistance from remote locations. Google Glass allowed them to see exactly what the mothers could see, which meant they could provide specific advice on posture and technique when problems were encountered.
By superimposing digitally enhanced images on video feeds received from microscopes in surgical devices, medical AR software can be used to assist surgeons during complicated procedures. At times when they might otherwise have had to stop what they were doing and look up at a screen to see vital signs and data, they can instead continue to focus on the task at hand with the help of AR. This type of software can also display medical augmented reality images over the patient’s body, providing surgeons with a clearer view of crucial anatomical details.
The SyncAR platform uses mixed reality and augmented reality to superimpose 3D images over a patient’s anatomy during such procedures as brain surgery, giving surgeons a better view of tumours, arteries, veins and other anatomical details, both before and during the procedures. The platform gives surgeons the ability to fade in and out of the augmented reality view, providing them with complete control of what they see at each stage of an operation.
In the past, the most practical way for medical students to learn about anatomy has been to study and operate on cadavers, something that not all people are comfortable with. While this form of learning is still likely to be used in the future, augmented reality medical apps such as HoloAnatomy make a strong case for the more widespread use of AR technology in educational institutions where future doctors and surgeons are trained.
Used with the Microsoft HoloLens device, HoloAnatomy can render a detailed anatomical view of the human body right in front of the eyes of medical students, wherever they happen to be. These holographic representations of the human anatomy show a high level of detail, including every muscle and vein, and should prove to be a more immersive learning tool than the photos in the medical texts used by past generations of medical students.
With a live feed of an on-the-spot surgeon’s view sent to remote specialists, the potential for collaborative surgical procedures is greatly increased. Medical professionals from across the globe will be able to work together on all types of operations with the help of smart glasses and AR software.
The US military has already experimented with using augmented reality in medical field hospitals. Through the funding of research that is being conducted at Purdue University, they are trialing technological innovations that can be used to help soldiers treat casualties in battlefield conditions. Remote surgeons can assess patients by watching the view from smart glasses worn by soldiers in attendance and provide expert guidance based on what they see. In addition to verbal instructions, they can write annotations that appear directly on the images the soldiers see through their smart glasses, making it easier to show the exact location of anatomical details the soldiers must operate on or pay particular attention to.
It’s possible that in the future, surgeons will use this type of augmented reality in hospitals with civilian patients, too, enabling urgent and complex procedures to be carried out on ocation in situations where medical evacuation may previously have been the only option.
For sufferers of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that impair memory, even simple everyday tasks such as finding the way to the nearest bathroom can be difficult to deal with. With this in mind, an app called Dorothy has been created, which overlays information about a patient’s surroundings on the picture they can see through their mobile phone camera. In addition to displaying useful information about a patient’s immediate surroundings, Dorothy can send alerts to remote caregivers in the event the patient should leave their home and go somewhere on their own.
This type of app could be especially useful for older patients who move into sheltered accommodation or a care home. Dealing with unfamiliar surroundings is likely to be less stressful with access to an app that guides them to the bathroom and other areas, with clear on-screen directions.
AR images overlaying a view of the patient’s body could help medical professionals to explain exactly what a proposed surgical procedure will involve. The more information a patient is given about a surgical procedure and the more clearly the information is presented, the easier it will be for them to decide whether they wish to go ahead with it or not. Applications similar to those mentioned above, in connection with augmented reality medical training and collaborative surgery, could be adapted for such a use case. Alternatively, custom applications could be developed for this purpose in the near future.
There are no treatments currently available for sufferers of dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD), which creates blind spots in the eyes. However, thanks to developments in augmented reality for healthcare, a smart glasses device called the Oculenz, has been created, which provides assistance to patients suffering from dry AMD. A test is performed while the patient is wearing the device to identify the specific areas they cannot see. The location of these areas is stored in the software and, when the device is worn on future occasions, a technology called pixel mapping is employed to display the missing visual information on the smart glasses, in an area where it can be seen.
The Oculenz can also send up-to-date visual test results to the patient’s doctor, alerting them to any significant changes in the patient’s vision. In this way, early signs of further deterioration can be addressed as soon as they become apparent.
Many applications for augmented reality in medicine and healthcare focus on facilitating treatment, but AR in medicine also has a preventative role.
Most food products now come with labels that provide detailed nutritional information but this information is not always presented in an easy-to-understand format. Firstly, it is often too small for older people to read and secondly, it is almost always provided on a per- serving basis rather than for the whole package. For example, a label on a 2-litre bottle of soft drink may tell you that the drink contains 22 grams of sugar — but on closer inspection, you might discover this figure is actually for a 200 ml serving and not for the whole bottle. An application that superimposes accurate nutritional information for the whole package or bottle, when you point a phone camera at a product on a supermarket shelf, could make life much easier for people who must follow restricted diets for medical reasons.
Apps like SugAR Poke have been developed for this very purpose. By displaying the total amount of sugar in products viewed through the camera on a mobile phone, it is designed to help people make healthier eating choices and could prove invaluable to diabetes sufferers.