By Sachin Kalra, Infostretch.
Augmented reality (AR) is one of the hottest trends in technology today. Its popularity is equally reflected in projections, as the market is expected to be worth more than $160 billion by 2020, up from just $4 billion in 2016. But its use is not limited to simply chasing Pokémon and other games. With a growing number of applications across a range of industries, the technology is increasingly being adopted within the healthcare sector, where analysts predict its value will reach around $5 billion by 2025.
A number of healthcare providers and medical device manufacturers have already begun to realize AR’s potential for improving their efficiency and effectiveness. A handheld AR device developed by US-based AccuVein, for example, enables clinicians to quickly and easily locate veins for injections – scanning and projecting a virtual image of a patient’s veins on their skin. And in the UK, surgeons at London’s Imperial College Healthcare Trust use Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset to create an accurate, real-time, virtual 3-D map of a patient’s blood vessels, muscles and bones before making a single incision.
Its impact isn’t only being felt by healthcare providers. In pharmaceuticals, for example, there are AR apps available which can give patients access to information such as dosage instructions and possible side effects. Those patients simply scan a particular prescription and the application recognizes the medication. Furthermore, solutions such as Ghostman are aiding patients with physical rehabilitation therapy following serious injury, and scientists are even exploring how the technology can be used to treat psychiatric and neurological conditions.
Given the benefits it offers both healthcare providers and their patients, AR’s growing popularity within the sector is not surprising. As with any new technology, though, implementing AR is not without its challenges.
Obstacles to overcome
While there may be a great deal of hype around future applications, it’s worth remembering that AR is still a relatively nascent space. There is currently little in the way of an ecosystem around the technology, as well as a lack of interoperability — both obstacles of implementation.
As it stands, developers are required to either build AR applications for one single platform or find ways of creating content for different platforms. Since each of these options has its own specific requirements, most AR apps today tend to be stand-alone projects. This situation is likely to be resolved over time with the implementation of common standards which will enable the creation of common frameworks, speeding up the overall development and deployment process. Once these standards are in place, it’s likely that AR will become more widely adopted within the healthcare sector.
Perception is also crucial — the future of AR depends on how it is perceived by end users. If AR is to be widely adopted, it’s important that developers ensure they put user experience at the heart of every project. As a burgeoning technology, AR is still something of an unknown quantity, so it is vital that sufficient time be given to ensure success. To do this, factors like loading and rendering three-dimensional objects, taking into account the real-world environment and conditions, and to carrying out extensive load testing will be required prior to release. Lag, or a lack of response in an AR application, might be frustrating when you’re trying to catch a Pokémon – but when we talk about care delivery, the consequences will be considerably more dire.
Finally, and most importantly, a shortage of formal regulation in the AR space means the technology is open to exploitation by bad actors. We all know that healthcare is one of the most heavily regulated industries – and with good reason; but until its current security concerns are addressed, it is unlikely that the integration of AR technology in the sector will continue much further. If developers want a place at the table, they should ensure the best possible security provisions and controls are proactively built into their apps from the very beginning for items like patient data and accessibility.
Keeping it real
AR is clearly an exciting prospect for healthcare. Its ability to open up a world of innovative opportunities could enhance patient care in unprecedented ways. While embracing these opportunities, it is important that healthcare providers don’t get caught up in the excitement and lose sight of the business cases for which they are implementing the technology.
Realizing the full benefits of AR will also be virtually impossible if an organization’s platforms don’t align with its back-end architecture, or development and testing don’t account for security concerns throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC).
As the technology enabling AR matures, efficient and effective data analysis will equally be key to delivering actionable intelligence for these applications. For example, specialist testing can replicate the stimuli and conditions of the real world in custom-built lab environments; this testing aspect is essential to addressing security concerns and ensuring that a solution will achieve a specific use case.
AR is set to play an important role in the digital transformation of healthcare. When concerns around the technology have been addressed and obstacles overcome, we will see the technology become widely accepted and used by healthcare practitioners across the globe.