Digital transformation in healthcare is of paramount importance as it holds the potential to revolutionise the way healthcare is delivered, accessed, and experienced.
By embracing innovative technologies and digital solutions, healthcare systems improve patient outcomes, streamline processes, enhance efficiency and increase accessibility to quality, compassionate care.
Those benefits are recognised by the NHS in its long term plan.
While virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have garnered attention for their potential in healthcare, their practical applications and complexities pose implementation challenges.
One solution that bridges the gap between cutting-edge technology and the requirement for immediate value: assisted reality (aR).
aR devices are revolutionising healthcare by providing hands-free, real-time support to medical professionals, enabling knowledge transfer, remote collaboration, and improved patient outcomes.
What is aR?
aR is often implemented in head-mounted wearables that fall under the category of extended reality (XR). The umbrella term encompasses the following technologies:
Virtual reality (VR), which plunges users into an all-digital, fully immersive experience;
Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), an interactive experience that combines the real world and computer-generated content, where physical and digital objects may co-exist in a blended environment; and
Assisted reality (aR), which is a technology that presents information to the user without blocking their vision. It is designed to assist users in completing real-world tasks without interfering with their situational awareness.
For VR and AR, adoption in healthcare is not as straightforward as it seems.
The technology may be functional, but the challenge lies in building specific healthcare applications and use cases, which requires additional investment, time and testing.
This complexity hinders their success and adds cost and challenges to the overall adoption and deployment process.
In contrast, aR offers a more immediate and practical value proposition as the necessary applications are readily available, and the devices seamlessly integrate with existing platforms like Microsoft Teams, which is widely used within the NHS.
aR provides a cost-effective alternative to more complex VR and AR solutions and has the potential to transform healthcare in line with the NHS’s long-term plan.
The versatility of aR head-mounted wearables makes them particularly well-suited for remote expert guidance, digital work instructions, field service support, and other use cases that require a reality-first experience.
These solutions provide hands-free control through voice commands designed for high-noise environments, so they are well suited to quieter environments like operating theatres or consulting rooms.
They also integrate seamlessly with personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure safety and comfort for users.
aR use cases in healthcare
aR has found practical applications across several areas within healthcare, including:
Education and Knowledge Transfer: aR enables the transfer of expertise from experienced surgeons to medical students, allowing them to gain real-time insights and tangible examples of procedures. Students can join live surgeries virtually and observe and interact with the surgeon wearing the device, thereby enhancing the learning process.
Community Nursing: aR wearables facilitate remote access to experts for immediate guidance and support in patient care. Nurses visiting patients in their homes can consult senior team members, obtain sign-offs, receive diagnoses and seek guidance on treatment, leading to increased efficiency and improved patient outcomes.
Paramedics: aR wearables enable paramedics to receive live support from hospital experts, helping them provide better care for patients off-site who are in a critical condition. By accessing guidance from specialists, paramedics can perform advanced treatments in the field, ensuring timely and appropriate care.
Remote Collaboration and Consultation: Healthcare professionals, especially those in remote or underserved areas, can benefit from aR wearables by connecting with specialists for remote consultations. The wearables enable real-time collaboration, where experts can provide guidance, review patient cases, and offer insights without the need for physical presence.
Guided Procedures: aR wearables can provide step-by-step guidance to healthcare professionals during complex procedures. The wearables can overlay digital instructions, checklists, and reference materials onto the user’s field of view, ensuring accurate execution of tasks and reducing the risk of errors.
Telemedicine and Telehealth: aR wearables can play a significant role in telemedicine and telehealth initiatives. Healthcare providers can remotely assess patients by seeing what the patient sees through the wearables, enabling visual examinations and assessments. Specialists can guide patients in performing self-examinations or provide real-time advice and instructions.
These current use cases demonstrate the value and impact of aR wearables in healthcare.
Moreover, there are emerging applications for this technology, including hazardous environments where limited access is crucial.
For instance, aR enabled remote guidance and support in heavily restricted environments, such as those imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensured expert assistance and reduced exposure risks.
Additionally, aR wearables hold potential in facilities management within healthcare settings.
By connecting on-site personnel with equipment specialists, real-time repairs and maintenance can be conducted, reducing downtime and improving operational efficiency.
The solution is also tailored to the needs of frontline healthcare workers.
Many aR wearables are equipped with a 4G modem, ensuring secure connectivity in any environment with 4G coverage.
There are also various mounting solutions on offer that are compatible with different forms of PPE, allowing for easy sanitisation and use in infection control settings.
Overall, the implementation of VR, AR, and assisted reality technologies in healthcare is aimed at improving patient outcomes and aligning with the NHS’s long-term plan.
These technologies offer accessibility and immediate value, easing the strain on healthcare professionals and potentially reducing backlogs.
By providing the best form of care in the current climate and looking toward the future, they have the potential to transform the face of healthcare.
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