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AR in Healthcare

The onset of COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live our life. ‘Work-from-home’, a concept that was limited to a miniscule percentage of jobs, became the de-facto standard for many in the Services sector as well as the Information Technology (IT) sector. Although the dangers of COVID-19 have now receded, some companies still allow their teams to work from home. In a similar fashion, COVID-19 has forced healthcare professionals to rethink and accelerate their journey of digital transformation. Even before the pandemic, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) were already having a significant impact on the healthcare industry; the pandemic has expedited their use. Remote surgeries, which were once considered science fiction, can now be a reality soon.

According to a report (source:, the global market for AR / VR had reached $28 billion U.S. dollars in 2021 (around Rs. 230000 crores in the currency of India), and is poised to rise to over a mind boggling 250 billion U.S. dollars by 2028 (around Rs. 2050000 crores in Indian currency).  That is significantly huge, and software companies that provide AR / VR development services should see a surge in demand for AR / VR app development. In this article, we will cover how AR can impact the healthcare market; we will cover VR in a subsequent article. But Before proceeding, let us examine in brief what AR / VR mean.

Augmented Reality (AR)
In general, AR / VR / MR (mixed reality) are called immersive technologies.  While the basic technical principles remain mostly the same, they differ in their degree of immersion. AR is a partly immersive technology that overlays digitized computer generated information on objects, places and entities from real world for the purpose of enhancing the learning experience of a user. It is this ability to combine physical elements and virtual objects that makes AR popular. It is used in studying and implementing health care, medicine, as well as in other fields like education, entertainment, military, aerospace, automobile, etc.

Virtual Reality (VR)
VR refers to the use of interactive simulations created by computer software and hardware to engage users with an opportunity in an environment that generates feelings similar to real world events and objects. VR is a way to replicate real life situations using completely immersive learning environment, high visualization and 3D characteristics by involving physical or other interfaces like motion sensors, haptic devices and head mounted display in addition to computer mouse, keyboard, voice and speech recognition. AR, VR and MR are getting quite popular in today’s time. Video games, flight simulators and google maps are a few real life examples that are already using this technology. While AR can be experienced with a (now common) smartphone, VR, which is a completely immersive technology, requires the use of special gear called head mounted devices (HMD). If you have seen the movie Star Wars or Iron Man, you have seen AR and VR in action. Let us now turn our attention to how AR is impacting medical health care in a positive way.

AR in Healthcare
  • AR technology can superimpose extra information into an AR headset. Surgeons can leverage this information during interventional procedures like MRI / CT guidance by overlaying specific patient anatomy on top of their body before going into surgery.
  • Due to its improved immersion, use of AR enables a good understanding of complex spatial relations in the human anatomy. In addition, the increase in realism of simulations and visualizations can benefit surgeons.
  • The real-time information that AR technology provides enables surgeons to access specific patient information. They can then use this data during surgeries to avoid potential pitfalls. This real-time information can come very handy especially in case of complicated procedures.
  • Surgeons planning complicated surgeries can explain to the patient the procedures they intend to carry out using AR enabled gear. In case there are more than one alternative, the surgeon can explain the potential merits and demerits to the patient using AR gear. Both the surgeon and the patient can then take an informed decision about which method to choose.  AR hence is also proving as a useful tool in patient education.
  • AR also allows medical professionals to explain to patients in a better fashion how a certain medicine actually works in their body. This awareness of how the medicine will benefit them can motivate patients to ingest medicines in a timely fashion.
  • Medical students too stand to benefit with AR.  Rather than being accessed via a traditional computer mouse, keyboard and screen, AR is able to enhance the way in which medical students interact with digital anatomical representation at all angles, providing a more immersive experience that ultimately aids their knowledge and understanding. AR thus quickens their learning experience.

Opportunity for AR / VR Service Providers
The health care domain is only one area where AR and VR experiences are changing the way we use the technology. As the figures above indicate, AR / VR / MR have the potential to make a significant impact on a nation’s economy. However, many healthcare professionals, medical practitioners and colleges lack the expertise to develop software that will provide a rich AR / VR experience. They therefore prefer outsourcing the development. Tech savvy information technology and engineering service providers, many of whom are located in India stand to gain from it. AR / VR services are gaining momentum not only in healthcare, but also in other sectors like manufacturing and education. As AR and VR gear becomes not only more affordable but more slick and powerful, the demand for companies that provide AR / VR experiences is bound to rise. Even SMEs can harness their potential.

To Summarize…
With the current advances in technology innovation, the field of medicine and healthcare is rapidly expanding and, as a result, many different areas of human health diagnostics, treatment and care are emerging. AR / VR / MR can change medical treatment of the future. As hardware and software improves, AR and VR will soon make it be possible for medical professionals to interact with each other and with patients in real time, and even from remote locations. When that happens, it will prove to be a significant milestone in healthcare and medical treatment.