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Augmenting Healthcare With Augmented Reality 

Augmented reality and mixed reality are being used more and more in hospitals by doctors and healthcare professionals to provide them with a hands-free working environment, greater flexibility with overlaying information and processing information from its camera. The application of augmented reality technology is opening up new opportunities in the healthcare industry. It’s expected that by the year 2020, the global market will reach a value of $1.5B. New AR innovations can help enhance doctors and surgeons ability to diagnose, treat, and perform surgery on their patients more accurately by giving them access to real-time data and patient information faster, and more precisely than ever before. AR can also bring huge value to practicing medicine and education by allowing students and trainee physicians to better visualize health issues and scenarios that they one day will be treating.  

What is Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality?

Different companies have different naming classifications for their products. Some call their products mixed reality or merged reality, even though the superimposed images do not interact spatially with the real world, some replace augmented with applied reality. Some companies call their product augmented reality when the product has an opaque video display and, therefore, does not ‘augment’ the real world.

There are typically two terms for spatial reality devices where the user can see the real world.

  • Augmented reality (AR). These devices overlay digital content on top of the real world.
  • Mixed reality (MR). These devices add superimposed digital content that superficially interacts with the environment in real-time.

What are some examples of Augmented/Mixed Reality in Healthcare?

Recently the versatility of mixed and augmented reality products has come to the forefront of the news, with an Imperial led project at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Doctors have been wearing the Microsoft Hololens headsets whilst working on the front lines of the COVID pandemic, to aid them in their care for their patients.

COVID has put the spotlight on this hands-free, interactive technology, and it is unlikely that this focus will move for some time. There will be a need for this technology in many new use cases, which previously did not require hands-free, or remote capabilities.

Another example is allowing a surgeon to see the heart of a patient during surgery. A recent report by the BBC showed a surgeon who was able to see real-time information in 3D and a direct view of tools inside the heart with technology from SentiAR.

There are also use cases for devices to provide medical assistance in regions of limited healthcare, via teleconferencing using the data captured from an augmented or mixed reality device.

The benefit that AR can bring to the healthcare industry can be ground-breaking and we are just witnessing the beginning of what is to come from AR in the field of medicine.