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Augmented reality in healthcare industry has quickly become in vogue. It helps doctors to excel in their practice, giving them extra confidence and precision, which results in better and safer care for patients.

In 2020, surgeons carried out the first-ever spine surgery using an AR head-mounted display. The procedure was performed on a 78-year-old patient suffering from degenerative spine disease, requiring lumbar decompression and the insertion of multiple screws. Equipped with FDA-approved AR headsets, the surgeons visualized the patient’s CT scan in real-time during the operation, achieving an unprecedented level of precision with the placement of the implants, boasting an impressive 100% accuracy rate.

Since then AR has been used for hundreds of surgeries, revolutionizing the medical industry.

However, surgeries are not the only applications of the technology. In today’s blog, we’ll discuss diverse applications of augmented reality in healthcare industry and the challenges it faces.

The Positive Impacts of Augmented Reality in the Healthcare Industry

It’s important to understand that AR is not just a technology that will be used in the future. It’s already rapidly evolving and growing. The global augmented reality market was valued at $40 bn in 2024 and is expected to grow.

It already brings a number of benefits to healthcare professionals:

  • Improved Patient Care

Medical practitioners visualize and interact with medical data, such as patient anatomy and diagnostic images, in real-time. This helps to improve clinical decision-making and surgical precision.

  • New Possibilities for Medical Education and Training

AR provides immersive and interactive learning experiences for medical students and professionals. It allows them to visualize complex anatomical structures, practice surgical procedures, and simulate medical scenarios in a controlled and safe environment, leading to more effective training and skill development.

  • Better Remote Assistance and Telemedicine

Healthcare specialists can provide real-time feedback guidance and support during procedures or patient consultations.

  • Efficiency and Cost Saving

With the help of AR, practices can streamline clinical workflows, reduce procedural errors, and enhance general operational efficiency. By optimizing resource utilization and improving productivity, AR technology helps healthcare settings save time and costs, ultimately benefiting providers and patients.

  • New Level of Patient Engagement

AR applications engage patients in their healthcare journey by providing interactive tools for education, self-monitoring, and treatment adherence. Patients can visualize their medical conditions, understand treatment options, and actively participate in decision-making.

Examples of Using Augmented Reality in Healthcare

From aiding surgeons in complex procedures to empowering patients with interactive educational tools, these examples show different ways in which AR is being integrated into healthcare practices.

Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy

When it comes to physical therapy, requires a lot of perseverance and effort from a patient to manage pain and remain motivated.

The good thing is that augmented reality for healthcare provides patients with a less stressful and more engaging rehabilitation experience.

Patients can exercise in a safe and enjoyable atmosphere, improving their motion, strength, and coordination.

What’s more, AR in the medical environment allows health workers to monitor the progress and adjust interventions if needed, so patients can receive personalized feedback to recover faster.

A great example of an AR-based rehabilitation system is the rehabilitation gaming system developed by Jintronix. It combines motion capture technology with augmented reality to provide interactive rehabilitation exercises for patients recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other neurological conditions.

Patients can play a variety of games designed to target specific motor skills, balance, coordination, and range of motion. For example, reaching, grabbing, balancing, or stepping in response to visual cues or instructions provided by the system. They also immediately receive feedback as therapists can monitor progress remotely and adjust the difficulty or parameters of exercises to meet each patient's needs.
Augmented reality in healthcare

Surgery Virtualization

There is no room for a mistake during surgery. Roughly speaking, a patient's life is in the surgeon’s hands. However, augmented reality in healthcare enables surgeons to visualize and strategize every cut and stitch they are planning to make by navigating the patient’s anatomy in real time.

Xvision spine system developed by Augmedics has aided in the treatment of over 4,500 patients and the implantation of over 25,000 pedicle screws spanning across 21 states in the US.

The system integrates AR glasses with surgical navigation software to provide surgeons with real-time 3D navigation during spine surgery. Navigation information is projected onto the surgeon's retina as they focus on the patient, removing the need to check secondary screens constantly.

Augmented reality in healthcare

Another revolutionary use case of augmented reality in healthcare is the ability to collaborate and get guidance from other specialists in real-time. 

By using Proximie surgeons can connect remotely with specialists or colleagues who provide guidance, support, or expertise during a surgical procedure. The platform uses AR technology to overlay digital annotations or virtual hands onto the surgeon's field of view, providing real-time guidance and assistance during the operation.

For example, a surgeon performing a complex procedure may use Proximie to connect with a specialist who can provide step-by-step instructions, highlight anatomical structures, or offer advice on surgical techniques. The specialist can view the surgical field from the surgeon's perspective and provide guidance directly within their augmented reality view.

Augmented reality in healthcare

Medical Training

Hours of studying are now supplemented with the use of augmented reality in healthcare which gives more practical value to the training process.

AR in healthcare allows physicians to create accurate illustrations of human anatomy, and the impacts of different diseases on the human body as they progress, and virtually show how various kinds of drugs and therapies can affect them.

Similarly, medical students can leverage AR in healthcare to have a better understanding of surgical procedures and practice a range of techniques in a controlled environment.

A study published in the Journal of Surgical Education reported that surgical residents who received training with AR-based simulation tools demonstrated improved surgical skills and performance compared to those trained using traditional methods.

HoloLens by Microsoft is one of the examples of augmented reality in healthcare that is used in medical education in for anatomy visualization, surgical simulation, and procedural training. The tool also facilitates remote collaboration among medical professionals, enabling real-time consultation and guidance during procedures.
Augmented reality in healthcare

Accurate Symptom Detection

Sometimes patients find it difficult to describe their symptoms which often results in delayed treatment and even misdiagnosis. Augmented reality for healthcare solves this problem.

AR enables patients to use gestures or voice commands to indicate areas of discomfort or demonstrate specific symptoms. Using AR glasses, they can visualize various skin conditions or eye conditions, which can greatly aid in describing their concerns to doctors. 

AR can also be used to objectively measure and quantify certain symptoms or physical signs, such as range of motion, muscle strength, or joint swelling. By overlaying virtual markers or sensors onto the patient's body, healthcare professionals can accurately assess and track changes in symptoms over time, aiding in diagnosis and treatment planning.

SkinVision app uses AR technology to allow users to capture images of moles or skin lesions using their smartphone camera. The app then analyzes the images using machine learning algorithms to assess the risk of skin cancer. Additionally, SkinVision includes an AR feature that overlays simulated images of different skin conditions, such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, or eczema, onto the user's skin. This allows users to compare their own skin lesions to simulated examples of various skin conditions, aiding in self-assessment and facilitating communication with healthcare professionals.
Augmented reality in healthcare

Patient Education

Different medical procedures, especially surgeries can be very stressful for patients. One of the benefits of augmented reality in healthcare is its ability to increase patient engagement in their health and well-being.

With AR apps patients can explore their bodies in detail. They can manipulate 3D models of anatomical structures zoom in on specific organs or systems, and learn about their function and significance. This hands-on approach to anatomy helps patients better understand their condition and treatment options.

Various medical procedures such as surgeries, injections, or physical therapy exercises can be simulated in the virtual environment. Patients can experience these procedures in a safe and controlled setting, gaining insight into what to expect before undergoing treatment. This can help alleviate anxiety and improve patient compliance and satisfaction.

Complete Anatomy app by 3D4Medical allows users to view and interact with detailed 3D models of organs, muscles, bones, and other anatomical structures. They can rotate, zoom in, and dissect virtual models to gain a better understanding of human anatomy.

The app includes educational content on various medical conditions and diseases, explaining their causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Users can explore virtual representations of medical conditions and learn about their impact on the body.

It also offers simulations of surgical procedures, allowing users to visualize and understand how surgeries are performed.

Augmented reality in healthcare

Challenges of AR in Healthcare

Despite a lot of opportunities AR gives to the healthcare industry, there are still a lot of challenges associated with implementing the technology.

Data Security Concerns

Similar to any software that gathers and transmits big amounts of sensitive data, AR for healthcare poses a risk of data breaches. However, complying with data protection regulations and ensuring security measures such as data wiping, two-factor authentication, regular backups, and storage encryption can minimize the risk of data loss or leakage.

User Training

Healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and medical technicians, need to develop technical proficiency in using AR devices and applications. Training should cover not only basic operations of AR hardware, navigation of AR interfaces, and interaction with virtual content but also emphasize safety protocols and best practices for using AR technology in clinical settings.

Cost of Implementation

Augmented reality in the medical field is quite pricey to implement. First of all, hardware devices such as AR headsets or smart glasses may have a significant upfront cost like HoloLens by Microsoft. 

Secondly, developing custom AR applications or integrating existing software solutions with AR capabilities can incur costs related to software development, licensing fees, and ongoing maintenance. The complexity of the software and the level of customization required will impact the overall cost of implementation.

Healthcare practitioners and staff may also require training to use AR technology effectively. Training programs and ongoing technical support services may incur additional costs, especially during the initial implementation phase.

Standardization Challenges

The lack of standardized hardware and software platforms for AR devices can create compatibility issues. Healthcare organizations may struggle to integrate AR solutions with existing systems, leading to interoperability challenges and inefficiencies in data exchange.

Future of Augmented Reality in Healthcare

According to the forecasts, the AR global market is projected to grow at an annual rate of 9.64%.
Future of Augmented Reality in Healthcare

Integration with AI-Powered Smart Assistants

AR-enabled smart AI assistants could provide healthcare professionals with real-time access to clinical guidelines, medical databases, and recommendations during patient consultations or medical procedures. By overlaying relevant information onto the clinician's field of view, AI assistants could help with diagnosis, treatment planning, and decision-making.

Pain Management

Currently, augmented reality is being explored for pain management through distraction techniques and immersive experiences.

SnowWorld, a VR/AR application developed by the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center transports burn patients into a snowy, immersive world where they can engage in interactive activities like throwing snowballs at penguins and snowmen. This distraction helps alleviate pain during wound care procedures and physical therapy sessions.

While SnowWorld primarily utilizes virtual reality, AR application in healthcare with similar immersive experiences could also be developed to provide pain relief in various healthcare settings.

Pharmaceutical Research and Development

The way clinical trials are conducted will be revolutionized by creating virtual environments for testing new drugs, medical devices, or treatment protocols. Virtual clinical trials conducted using AR could allow researchers to collect real-time data on patient responses and treatment outcomes in a controlled and immersive setting, potentially accelerating the development and approval of new medical therapies.

Holographic Telepresence

Telemedicine will be enhanced with holographic telepresence, allowing healthcare providers to project lifelike, 3D holograms of themselves into remote locations for patient consultations or surgical assistance. Such a form of telemedicine could enhance communication and collaboration between healthcare teams across different locations.

Digital Twins for More Personalized Medicine

Digital twins or virtual replicas of individual patients can incorporate data from genomics, medical imaging, and wearable sensors. They can be visualized with AR so that healthcare providers can simulate disease progression, test different treatment scenarios, and personalize interventions based on the patient's unique characteristics and responses.

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

One of the ways, AR could be used for mental health is exposure therapy. By integrating with virtual reality, it could create immersive environments for exposure therapy, a proven treatment for anxiety disorders such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients could use AR headsets to gradually expose themselves to anxiety-provoking situations in a controlled and safe virtual environment, helping them overcome their fears and manage symptoms.

Personalized Treatment Planning

AR could be used to create personalized treatment plans for patients by integrating patient-specific data, such as genetic information, medical imaging, and treatment history, into augmented reality visualizations. By considering these factors, healthcare providers can design treatment plans that are more likely to achieve successful outcomes while minimizing risks and complications.

This would also allow healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans to each patient's unique needs and characteristics, leading to more effective and targeted interventions.

Summing Up

The potential of augmented reality in healthcare is immense. With the power of new software and collaboration tools, it can significantly improve various aspects of healthcare such as diagnostics, pain management, doctors and patient education, drug discovery, and many more.

For sure, the shift can be daunting. However, by providing thorough training to educate medical staff about augmented reality in hospitals and partnering with a reliable healthcare software development company, organizations can mitigate the fear of change and benefit from all the advantages and possibilities AR gives.
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