Challenges in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for the Healthcare Sector
The VR that lets you pretend to be a star quarterback or space pirate can also help train young professionals or even provide pain and anxiety relief to patients. The AR that puts Pikachu in your city park can also assist physicians with real-time information to use in diagnosis or even surgery.
Among providers, the use of AR and VR is currently focused on a number of discrete areas. For patients, these technologies can speed education about conditions or treatment plans. They can even be therapies themselves when used in visualization and relaxation exercises. Applications in opioid addiction therapy, phantom limb treatment, phobia therapies, cancer therapy planning, peri-operative planning, posttraumatic stress disorder, and general pain management are some established examples. DR tools can be used to help maintain mental acuity through participation in situations that limitations such as physical mobility may otherwise make difficult, and some VR-based therapies are beginning to appear as ways to help Alzheimer’s disease patients improve their memory.
In the clinical setting, AR and VR can help physicians and care teams at the point of care. For example, surgeons can use a heads-up display to provide a data overlay on the patient’s body during surgery or to visualize the entire procedure during pre-surgical planning. This heads-up display allows the user to see both real and projected objects or data at the same time. Combined with medical imaging, AR is beginning to provide clinicians with the ability to project medical images, such as CT scans, directly onto the patient and in alignment with the patient’s body — even as the person moves — to provide clinicians with clearer lines of sight into internal anatomy.3 In the educational setting, curricula across undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education programs and institutions are increasingly incorporating AR and VR enablement. The use of virtual cadavers in anatomy training is one specific example, which can be extended to practice sessions with an AR-enhanced smartphone.
Future of Virtual & Augmented Reality
According to research from Goldman Sachs, by 2025 the market size for AR and VR software alone may reach $35 billion, including more than $5 billion devoted to health care.4 An estimate from the VR/AR Association that includes hardware as well pegs the 2020 market for VR at $30 billion, with AR generating $120 billion in revenue. One estimate held that about 16 million AR and VR devices were shipped in 2017, a 47 percent increase over the year prior.
Challenges to Confront
The continuing refinement of the technology that powers DR is clearly poised to continue, if not accelerate. As with many new technologies, the issues of regulatory approval, coverage, and payment are critical, especially as uses move from small-scale and pilot stages to more widespread adoption.
AR and VR are a bold new world and we are still learning how to provide effective user interfaces that blend voice, body, and object positioning. While the cost and complexity of devices to create the experience and the supporting technology are dropping, there are still hurdles to overcome.
The processing power needed to support the sophistication of AR and especially VR may cause some cost pressures for health care organizations. Current applications require high-end “gaming” computers that are unlikely to be in organizations today — and scaling to a departmental level will require additional infrastructure (hardware and network) support.