The field of healthcare has rapidly embraced augmented reality (AR). In 2020, medical professionals used an AR head-mounted display to perform the first-ever spine surgery. A 78-year-old patient needed many screws inserted and lumbar decompression due to degenerative spine disease. The FDA-approved augmented reality headgear allowed surgeons to see the patient’s CT image while performing 100% accurate surgery and implant placement.
Hundreds of operations have been performed with AR by neurosurgeons since then, and there have even been rumors that AR might be used for any type of surgery.
What is AR/VR and how does it work?
AR (augmented reality) is not the same as VR (virtual reality), although both terms are related as they both create immersive experiences. However, there are also some differences regarding how they work and the experiences they provide.
The purpose of augmented reality is to overlay digital components on the physical environment. It makes sense of its surroundings with the use of sensors. AR apps are able to determine a user’s location and direction of travel by utilizing a mix of GPS, gyroscopes (a device that detects when a moving item changes directions), and accelerometers (a sensor commonly found in phones that measures the acceleration of the device).
Virtual reality, in contrast to augmented reality, is an immersive experience that removes people from reality, typically with the use of a headset and headphones. Additionally, it is possible to combine all five senses. It immerses people in entirely new worlds, replacing the actual one rather than adding elements of it. With the use of technology, people may have a three-dimensional experience through computer automation. The whole VR experience is created by combining software, gaming engines, content management systems, and training simulators with hardware, such as headgear, controllers, and treadmills.
Expectations of the AR/VR technology market
According to Statista, the total global market for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is anticipated to grow to $297 billion by 2024, roughly ten times the $30.7 billion market size in 2021.
According to the information provided by the International Data Corporation, 14.94 million AR and VR gadgets were shipped worldwide in 2022—a 54.9% increase from 9.69 million in 2021.
These data show that the AR/VR market is on the rise and it is expected to continue growing as this technology evolves and improves. In the case of the healthcare industry, it is being more and more used for different purposes.
Applications of AR/VR in healthcare
AR/VR offers numerous applications in the healthcare field. Current research seeks different ways to incorporate technology to improve patient experiences, increase access to treatments, and reduce pressure on the healthcare system.
Currently, AR/VR is specially used in mental health practices to conduct exposure therapy, for example, for veterans with PTSD. This way, triggering or anxiety-inducing objects are introduced to patients so that they get used to them, but in a safe environment. This represents a unique opportunity to recreate almost any situation in a safe setting such as a therapist’s office. Unlike traditional exposure therapy, VR-facilitated exposure therapy has much fewer limitations.
According to the FDA, “studies have found VR exposure therapy may be helpful in treating phobias, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress, and there has been some exploration of its effectiveness in treating psychosis, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as eating disorders and schizophrenia spectrum disorder.”
Apart from its applications in mental health, AR/VR can also be used to treat neurological disorders by providing rehabilitation assistance, for instance, stroke rehabilitation. It is also being used for pain management, pediatric healthcare, and even in surgery, where 3D printing has become a key asset as well.
Some companies developing AR/VR technology
NeuroVirt uses immersive virtual reality to gamify and measure mobility recovery and rehabilitation.
While encouraging patients to stick with their workouts and increase the effectiveness of their recovery, NeuroVirt provides high intensity, high dosage rehabilitation. The rehabilitation procedure has been transformed into an immersive, interactive experience.
Studies have demonstrated that Neurovirt is simple to use and that, with the correct exposure to the interactive intense therapy, it may assist to provide faster positive outcomes within recovery. These studies have demonstrated that patients who have access to this treatment can advance faster toward recovering independence and functional mobility than they would with conventional rehabilitation techniques.
Strolll develops digital therapeutics (DTx) software for AR glasses that empowers movement therapy for people living with neurological disorders.
For those with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological illnesses, Strolll DTx is the first patented augmented reality (AR) solution in the world for cueing treatment and gamified exercise to enhance gait, balance, and fall risk.
The London-based companyFundamentalVR trains surgeons in a manner similar to a flight simulator. With the use of this method, surgeons may practice, hone, and perfect their surgical methods in a safe setting with haptic features for tactile feedback. The firm offers augmented reality (AR) technology through Microsoft HoloLens, despite having a large number of virtual reality simulations. Users can collaborate while completing the simulations.
Through virtual reality simulations, Karuna Labs treats chronic pain using evidence-based methods. Patients may receive therapy at a nearby clinic or at home. Depending on the specific requirements of each patient, the length of the treatment program at a clinic varies from four to twelve weeks.