There is enormous potential to apply extended reality (XR) technologies, i.e. virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (RA) to health. From self-care and wellness to treatment and even surgical procedures, XR is already helping to improve many aspects of health. Sure, it’s early days, but the transformation is underway. And that means the healthcare industry needs to be prepared.
Here are three reasons why the healthcare industry should adopt XR technologies.
1. XR can improve well-being
The positive effects of mindfulness and meditation on overall health and well-being are well documented. As such, a large number of meditation applications have emerged to help people meditate and de-stress, often through relaxing sounds and guided instructions. Now, some of these solutions incorporate virtual reality to make guided meditations more immersive.
VR guided meditation is one of these applications. It includes more than 100 meditations already prepared in beautiful virtual environments, such as a beach, a secluded forest and even the top of a mountain. Meanwhile, gentle audio instructions guide you through various breathing exercises. If you’ve struggled with meditation because you can’t tune in to the real world, putting on a virtual reality headset and using a virtual reality meditation app could literally help you block everything around you. I can certainly see the benefits of this.
2. XR can help you visualize medical data more effectively
Let us now turn to an example of RA. Because it superimposes digital images and information on real-world vision, RA is ideal for visualizing medical information, such as superimposing anatomical data on the patient in real life. This can help clinicians perform procedures more quickly and accurately.
A simple example comes from AccuVein, the world leader in vein visualization. Here a vein map is coated on the surface of the patient’s skin to help healthcare professionals find the veins more easily (to start IVs and draw blood). The technology is primarily used to help doctors find veins that otherwise could not be seen or felt, and evidence shows that visualization of the veins dramatically improves the ability of physicians to find these veins difficult in the first attempt, up to 98% in pediatric cases. and 96 percent with adult patients.
3. XR can improve therapeutic treatments and even surgeries
Meanwhile, RV is proving to have serious therapeutic ribs. Among other things, it can be used to immerse patients in simulated relaxing environments, which can help calm them before (or even during) treatment, reduce pain, and generally improve the experience of being in a hospital or clinical setting.
In one example, a Brazilian team used the RV to help children overcome their fear of vaccines. The project, called the VR Vaccine, involved children watching (via a VR headset) an animated adventure story, while a nurse (who can see the story unfold on a separate screen) synchronizes the action of clean the skin and administer the injection with the story. . The team’s research showed that most children feared the needle instead of the pain they might feel, so the virtual reality approach was designed to block and distract from the needle. The project, created by Brazilian pharmacy chain Hermes Pardini, was so successful, since then the company has installed VR headsets in all its pharmacies to help its vaccination campaigns.
But virtual reality is not just for kids. For adult patients with regional anesthesia (i.e., they are not “subjected” to the procedure), RV has been shown to help patients stay calm and relaxed during surgery. At St George’s Hospital in London, patients undergoing procedures under regional anesthesia had the option of wearing virtual reality headsets before and during their operation, which immersed them in soothing virtual landscapes. This proved incredibly effective; a staggering 100% of participants said wearing headphones improved their overall hospital experience, 94% said they felt more relaxed and 80% reported feeling less pain. Patients reported feeling so immersed in the experience; they were not even aware of being in the operating room.
I hope these examples show how XR can help improve health. In addition to improving patient outcomes, RV and RA can improve accessibility to health and wellness services. With a growing population and people generally living longer, health services around the world are under increasing pressure (and this without the impact of COVID-19). Our health systems already have problems. Waiting times can be long, access to certain services (such as mental health services) can be limited, and depending on where you are in the world, medical treatment can be hugely expensive. We urgently need more technology adoption in healthcare to alleviate these pressures, and I think XR has a key role to play.
Read more about the technologies of extended reality in my new book, Augmented reality in practice: more than 100 amazing ways of virtual, augmented and mixed reality change business and society. It is full of real-world examples from healthcare and many other industries.