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Applications of Augmented Reality in Health Care

Oct 3, 2023
Mayuri GOwda

It is no secret that technological advances have shaped the current health care industry. From X-rays to computer systems that streamlined medical treatment, strides in technological advancements have equipped doctors with the best tools to provide optimal patient care. 

But what does the development of augmented reality (“AR”) mean for health care professionals and the industry as a whole? 

With its ability to enable users to overlay the digital world onto the physical, essentially blending the physical and digital worlds, AR has several emerging use cases for health care.

AR and the Operating Room 

AR is a game changer for the operating room (“OR”), on par with the development of general anesthesia. Surgeons at Johns Hopkins first used AR during a surgical procedure in 2020. The use of AR allowed the surgeon to superimpose the patient’s data, medical records, and medical scans directly above an open incision to complete a surgery that would have taken hours longer without this technology.

Future applications will allow surgeons to use real-time X-ray technology directly in their line of vision to perform operations on parts of the body that would otherwise not even be visible.

AR will also allow surgeons from across the globe to partner with colleagues in ways never before seen. Surgeons from different countries can now collaborate during a procedure, see what the operating surgeon is seeing in real time, and share ideas without even having to scrub in. 

Applications for the Blind

Perhaps one of the most impressive applications of AR will be for the blind population. Although a pair of AR glasses will not be able to literally make the blind see, they can get a visually impaired person close to the real thing.

What AR in this context offers is the ability to send alerts in real time to the user. For instance, if a person with visual impairment is crossing the street, the AR glasses will detect vehicles further away from the person than they would be able to hear, and alert them as to how quickly a vehicle is approaching.

Other applications would be for these glasses to help the visually impaired navigate through crowded areas, read texts to them, and recognize objects in their direct vicinity. Overall, AR will improve quality of life for people who are blind or have low vision. 

Exposure Therapy

AR may also be able to help those with sensory overload issues, high stimulation, PTSD, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses.

Those who struggle with sensory overload, anxiety, PTSD, etc. are now able to speak with or view a recording of a therapist, doctor, or even a friend as they navigate an overwhelming or triggering experience, such as a walk through a crowded street. The person comforting them is directly in their line of sight, guiding them through the noisy streets and helping them begin to feel more at ease in that environment.

Real-Time Health Care

Have you ever felt like something was wrong, but you weren’t sure if you really needed to go to the doctor’s office? Maybe you did not want to waste anyone’s time, or feared the embarrassment of going, only to be told it was all in your head.

With AR technology, that will soon be an issue of the past. Not only will AR technology allow you to connect with a doctor instantly, but the doctor will also be able to access medical information like blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, etc. in real time. A quick check-in with your primary will no longer take a week to schedule and will take far less time than it has traditionally. This means doctors can see more patients, diagnose issues faster, and save more lives. 

How Augmented Reality is Redefining Health Care

AR is a beacon of transformative promise in the health care realm. Its numerous applications, ranging from precision surgery and immersive medical education to inclusive patient care and technological innovation, foreshadow a future in which medical practices are lifted to new heights.

Though ethical and legal considerations loom large, the collaborative spirit of health care professionals, technologists, and policymakers is prepared to design an AR integration that is patient-centered, equitable, and responsible.

AR has the potential to improve patient outcomes, expand medical capabilities, and pave the way for a more compassionate, empowered, and cutting-edge health care landscape.

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