AR in healthcare: from medical training to patient education

30.10.2019
8 min.
title

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Today, there are plenty of amazing technologies designed to make life easier, but only a few of them still look like magic to us. Augmented reality, or AR, is one of these technologies—merging the world as we see it with digital information.

Until recently, AR was used mostly for entertainment. We have all seen the sparkly filters, flower crowns, and puppy masks on social media. However, this technology can do much more.

AR is paving its way into the field of healthcare application development with the promise to reimagine medical staff training and education along with patient diagnosing and treatment. The demand for augmented reality in healthcare will undoubtedly grow, as a recent Grand View Research report predicts a 23% CAGR growth for the global market for AR by 2025.

There are multiple approaches to augmented reality development, and its many uses can support health specialists in their training and work as well as advance the delivery of quality care.

AR for reshaping medical training and education

Medical students are required to dive deep into the theory of human anatomy, pathology, and invasive procedures. However, it is also beneficial for them to understand the health issues in the real world and the ways to address them. AR introduces interactivity into medical training and complements theoretic knowledge with case-based simulations.

Medical students are required to dive deep into the theory of human anatomy, pathology, and invasive procedures. However, it is also beneficial for them to understand the health issues in the real world and the ways to address them. AR introduces interactivity into medical training and complements theoretic knowledge with case-based simulations.

Anatomical information overlay

Additionally, AR can introduce gamification into imaginary care cycles to help practitioners in their training. Medical students will be able to view various clinical cases and then apply different diagnostic and treatment techniques, replaying any case as many times as they need. Such apps can be installed on tablets, smartphones, or smart glasses, overlaying patient cases on any surface, including campus walls.

Experienced health specialists can certainly benefit from additional AR training as well, polishing their skills and refreshing their knowledge.

Augmented reality across the care cycle

Augmented reality in healthcare also has the potential to introduce paperless environments into admission, discharge, and transfer (ADT) processes, facilitate procedures, optimize surgeries, and support patients after discharge. With each piece of delivery of care being enhanced with AR, providers can streamline workflows, making their staff more efficient and less burdened with tedious routines.

ADT through the looking glass

According to the United Nations, the population aged 65 and over is the fastest-growing of all population groups. Additionally, according to their world population prospects report, by 2050, there are expected to be 426 million people over the age of 80 globally. The aging population increases the burden on the healthcare system with more Medicare and Medicaid patients needing recurrent care and support from hospitals, home care agencies, and assisted living facilities.

To handle the increasing workload in hospitals, managers should first optimize basic procedures, such as ADT processes. Nursing staff should be able to perform certain tasks without heading to desktop EHRs and filling in paper forms every time. These could include managing patient records, preparing wards, keeping in touch with treatment plans, verifying dosing information, and requesting medical equipment.

Perfect for accomplishing this are AR apps designed for smart glasses. They allow nurses to keep both hands free while making arrangements or interacting with a patient. In particular, these apps can:

  • Document initial patient information during the admission process without wasting time using a tablet or writing notes on paper. Nurses can assign a ward or a bed, fill in the admission questionnaire, record patient vitals, check insurance information, and contact fellow specialists.
  • Ensure quality of care for patient stay via automated features. AR-based ADT apps can track care time and location, monitor task completion, and notify about treatment plan changes. Nurses can also double-check prescriptions and avoid improper dosing by sending requests to physicians.
  • Facilitate discharge and transfer processes with pre-set checklists that guide nurses at every step. They don’t need to wander around the facility searching for responsible specialists to sign forms, book medical equipment, or compose a discharge report. Everything can be done within the app.

Introducing AR into ADT will make related workflows reliable, with all processes in one place and under control.

Error-proof blood tests

Drawing blood from a patient is the basic way to find out what’s going on with their body, and this procedure can benefit from technological advancements too. Since not all veins, and patients, are the same, finding a vein on the first attempt can be challenging. AR provides a way to reduce the number of missed veins by using handheld scanners that use noninvasive infrared technology to show the vein system on a patient’s skin.

AccuVein

When the skin is scanned, the musculature appears red or green, and the veins are represented as dark lines. Health specialists can control the procedure with the vein finder, avoiding valves or bifurcations, and more successfully draw blood on the first attempt.

AR-guided surgeries

The stakes are high when it comes to more serious and invasive procedures, such as surgeries. Surgeons use a variety of tools and still need to watch over the patient’s vital statistics while operating. When performing microsurgeries, they work via the microscope. In the case of minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon navigates the process via an endoscopic camera.

While it can be challenging to keep an equal focus on all tasks, it’s imperative that surgeons do it in order to keep patients safe during and after the procedure.

AR in the form of smart glasses can significantly improve the surgeon’s focus and reduce the need to split attention between various monitors. All critical patient information and surgical site images are kept right before the surgeon’s eyes, helping to assure his or her concentration on the patient.

Some AR devices are designed with a specific focus, such as the spine. This technology creates 2D and 3D visualizations of the patient’s anatomy in axial and sagittal planes. It also tracks instruments and implants and supports navigation for both open and minimally invasive procedures. Surgeons can find the safest path into the spine regions they need to access even when the spine is damaged or deformed.

3d Surgery

This AR system also uses sensors that collect surgical data and power machine learning to create alerts and suggestions, making the procedure even more controllable. Surgeons can achieve higher levels of precision in spine surgery, reducing the risk of complications, and succeeding even in complex cases of cervical pathologies, spinal traumas, skeletal deformities, and more.

Post-discharge support

After a patient leaves the hospital, their rehabilitation period isn’t always over. To recover from an invasive procedure or acute condition successfully, patients need to comply with a post-discharge treatment plan. Some patients may struggle with multiple changes to their daily life and need support during this time.

AR in healthcare can make the post-discharge routine more comprehensive and even entertaining.

AR allows for interactive patient education in disease prevention and treatment. Patients often feel left out when they don’t quite understand their condition, which could reduce their engagement with subsequent therapy.

Medical practitioners can use AR apps on smartphones and tablets to demonstrate to the patient and caregivers what is happening within the body and how it can be treated. With all parties being informed and involved, they can contribute to the patient’s recovery in the best possible way.

Augmented reality apps on smart glasses can engage patients to take care of their health after discharge. Becoming their personal digital assistants, AR apps can notify patients of the need to take particular medications and encourage them to follow nutritional guidelines. They can also remind about the need to exercise and offer fun ways to get more active, like reaching to pat a kitten or collect a coin.

Augmented future of healthcare becomes reality

While it hasn’t reached every corner of care delivery yet, augmented reality in medicine is a technology worth the investment. It is already being used to make healthcare safer and more precise.

AR helps medical students gain a better understanding of human anatomy, provides guidance for drawing blood, and helps health professionals navigate through complex spinal surgeries. We also anticipate that the future will bring in paperless environments across clinical and administrative processes and enable full-cycle post-discharge support. We expect that this technology will become the standard surgery assistance tool to reduce the number of preventable medical errors and complications.