The significance of digital transformation within the healthcare sector cannot be overstated, as it has the capacity to completely transform the delivery, accessibility, and overall experience of healthcare services.
Through the adoption of advanced technologies and digital innovations, healthcare systems can enhance patient results, streamline operations, boost efficiency, and broaden the availability of high-quality and compassionate medical care. These advantages have been acknowledged and endorsed by the NHS in its long-term plan.
While virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have captured attention for their potential applications in healthcare, the practical implementation of these technologies presents challenges due to their complexity. One solution that effectively bridges the gap between cutting-edge technology and the immediate need for tangible benefits is assisted reality (aR). aR devices are revolutionising the healthcare field by offering hands-free, real-time assistance to healthcare professionals. This enables seamless knowledge sharing, remote collaboration, and ultimately leads to improved patient outcomes.
aR is frequently employed through head-mounted wearables that belong to the extended reality (XR) category. This overarching term encompasses the following technologies:
Virtual reality (VR), immersing users in a completely digital and immersive environment.
Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), offering an interactive experience that blends real-world surroundings with computer-generated content, allowing physical and digital elements to coexist in a merged space.
Assisted reality (aR), a technology that delivers information to users without obstructing their field of vision. Its purpose is to aid users in accomplishing real-world tasks without disrupting their awareness of their surroundings.
The adoption of VR and AR in healthcare is not as straightforward as it may appear. While the technology itself functions well, the real challenge lies in developing specific healthcare applications and use cases, which demand extra investment, time, and rigorous testing. This intricacy impedes their success and introduces additional costs and obstacles to the overall adoption and implementation process. In contrast, aR presents a more immediate and pragmatic value proposition due to the ready availability of essential applications and the seamless integration of devices with established platforms such as Microsoft Teams, widely utilised within the NHS. aR offers a cost-effective alternative to the more intricate VR and AR solutions, holding the potential to revolutionise healthcare in alignment with the NHS’s long-term strategy.
The adaptability of aR head-mounted wearables renders them especially suitable for scenarios like remote expert guidance, digital work instructions, field service support, and other situations that call for a primary focus on reality. These solutions offer hands-free control via voice commands optimised for noisy environments, making them well-suited for quieter settings like operating theatres or consultation rooms. Furthermore, they seamlessly integrate with personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure user safety and comfort.
Practical Applications of aR in Healthcare
Assisted reality (aR) has demonstrated its practical utility across various domains within the healthcare sector, encompassing:
Education and Knowledge Transfer: aR facilitates the transfer of expertise from seasoned surgeons to medical students. This technology allows students to gain real-time insights and tangible examples of medical procedures. Through virtual participation in live surgeries, students can observe and interact with surgeons wearing the aR devices, thereby enhancing the learning experience.
Community Nursing: Wearable aR devices streamline remote access to expert advice for immediate guidance and support in patient care. When nurses attend to patients in their homes, they can consult senior team members through these wearables. This consultation process covers obtaining approvals, receiving diagnoses, and seeking treatment guidance, leading to heightened efficiency and improved patient outcomes.
Paramedics: aR wearables empower paramedics with real-time support from hospital experts, enhancing their ability to provide superior care to critically ill off-site patients. By accessing guidance from specialists, paramedics can administer advanced treatments in the field, ensuring prompt and appropriate care.
Remote Collaboration and Consultation: Healthcare professionals, particularly those serving in remote or underserved areas, can leverage aR wearables to connect with specialists for remote consultations. These wearables facilitate immediate collaboration, enabling experts to offer guidance, review patient cases, and provide insights without necessitating physical presence.
Guided Procedures: aR wearables can offer comprehensive, step-by-step guidance to healthcare practitioners during intricate procedures. These devices overlay digital instructions, checklists, and reference materials onto the user’s field of view. This feature ensures precise task execution and diminishes the likelihood of errors.
Telemedicine and Telehealth: aR wearables have a pivotal role to play in telemedicine and telehealth endeavours. Healthcare providers can remotely evaluate patients by observing what the patient sees through the wearables. This capability enables visual examinations and assessments. Specialists can guide patients through self-examinations or offer real-time advice and instructions.
The potential of aR wearables in the realm of healthcare facilities management is increasingly evident. These innovative devices serve as a bridge between on-site staff and equipment specialists, enabling seamless real-time execution of repairs and maintenance tasks. As a result, the prevalent issue of downtime is mitigated, subsequently fostering a considerable boost in operational efficiency.
Numerous aR wearables are integrated with 4G modems, providing a secure and reliable connectivity option in areas with 4G coverage. Additionally, a range of mounting solutions is at hand, designed to be compatible with various forms of PPE. This streamlined compatibility allows for easy sanitation and utilisation, particularly in environments that prioritise stringent infection control measures.
Within the broader context, the integration of VR, AR, and aR technologies in healthcare aims to improve patient outcomes and align with the NHS’s long-term strategy. These technologies not only improve accessibility and provide immediate value but also ease the workload on healthcare professionals and potentially address backlogs. By delivering optimal care in the present environment and spearheading innovative approaches, they have the potential to revolutionise the healthcare landscape.
About the Author
Jon Arnold is VP of EMEA at RealWear Inc. Free your hands! As the pioneer of assisted reality wearable solutions, RealWear® works to engage, empower, and elevate the modern frontline professional to perform work tasks more safely, efficiently, and precisely. RealWear’s wearable solutions give workers real-time access to information and expertise while keeping their hands and field of view free for work. Headquartered in Vancouver, Washington, and used by 41 of the Fortune 100 companies, RealWear is field-proven in a wide range of industries with thousands of world-class customers, including Shell, Goodyear, Mars, Colgate-Palmolive, and BMW.
Featured image: Gorodenkoff