Long a staple of science fiction books and film, augmented reality (AR) is no longer just a prospect of the far-off future. The medical field is increasingly adopting AR strategies to improve quality of care, and patients, doctors, and nurses are all beginning to use innovative AR healthcare technologies to open new and exciting avenues of possibility.
In Australia, for example, the Breastfeeding Support Project used Google Glass to guide new mothers in need of breastfeeding help. With the hands-free glasses and a voice-activated app with on-screen guidance from counselors, mothers received step-by-step instructions on how to best get their infant to latch. In rural areas where access to this kind of support tends to be hard to come by, this kind of AR healthcare technology can be especially helpful.
As another example, consider the field of phlebotomy, where almost 40 percent of IV insertions fail on the first attempt, according to the Emergency Nurses Association. Because veins can be hard to see or feel, IV insertion can be difficult and painful, but by using a hand-held device and near-infrared technology to project an image of a patient's vein onto the skin, nurses and phlebotomists can use AR to improve first-try IV insertion accuracy rates.
AR in Healthcare: The Sky's the Limit
Prevalent in everything from business to entertainment, AR technology is growing rapidly. According to a Grand View Research report, the global market for AR and VR is predicted to reach $5.1 billion by 2025, with AR healthcare technologies and increasing investments in healthcare-related emerging technologies as key factors of this immense growth.
As AR technology continues to expand its usefulness, companies are looking at how to provide real-time, life-saving information to doctors and surgeons. For example, AR technology is on the cusp of allowing surgeons to precisely study a patient's anatomy from MRI and CT scans on an AR headset and then overlay the patient's anatomy onto their body before going into surgery. In essence, AR will allow surgeons to visualize bones, muscles, and internal organs before operating on an actual living, breathing body, helping them to determine exactly where to make an incision. This technology could be life-saving in emergency care situations, where having the ability to visualize the body instantaneously could save precious moments otherwise spent looking through papers and electronic medical records.
Doctors and teachers are also using AR healthcare technology to improve training for medical students. Cloud-based AR devices can pair with computers, tablets, or smartphones with cameras to connect surgeons and students in real time anywhere in the world. Surgeons can then virtually scrub-in and provide assistance or help guide medical students through specific procedures. When students need specialized training, this technology can be particularly useful, allowing doctors to literally visualize and interact with specialist information and procedures that may not be readily available in their area.
But the benefits of AR go even further, helping doctors to not just treat patients, but also more accurately diagnosis what ails them.
From Augmented Surgery to Augmented Diagnosis
But the benefits of AR go even further, helping doctors to not just treat patients, but also more accurately diagnosis what ails them. AR technology in healthcare can improve patient care by making it easier for physicians to have access to patient data while working. Doctors can use Google Glass and voice-activation AR, for example, to get patient data hands-free and in real time, and patients can use AR technologies to show their symptoms when describing simply doesn't cut it. With this technology, doctors use a camera display to simulate a patient's vision, helping them get a more accurate sense of how a specific condition is impacting the patient.
AR technology is also being used to provide 3D, interactive medical imaging. 3D visualizations of patient data, such as a holograph of the patient's anatomy, make it easier for physicians to access the complexities of the human body and assess what's happening in the patient's body in a realistic and contextualized manner. This ultimately makes both diagnosis and treatment more accurate and efficient.
Supporting AR Healthcare Technology
As AR technology continues to grow in various parts of the medical field, the healthcare industry will need to prepare its infrastructure to support AR devices and applications. Having a cloud-based communications infrastructure that can connect virtual teams and facilities is critical to delivering these technologies and improving the overall efficiency of the medical organization.
To be prepared for where healthcare technology trends are heading, cloud communications should be an integral and integrated part of any healthcare facility, allowing both patients and providers to have seamless access to AR healthcare technology that will improve patient care and patient outcomes.