The landscape of healthcare has undergone an evolution in recent years, driven by the integration of augmented reality (AR) technology into medical practices. AR, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), is providing healthcare professionals with the means to offer patients an unprecedented level of care and personalized treatments.
In 2020, a monumental feat was achieved in the field of neurosurgery after a landmark spinal procedure was conducted using an FDA-approved AR headset. Not only did the headset’s high-quality AR display rival the well-lit environment of the operating room, it provided the surgical team with real-time access to the patient’s CT scan during the operation, ensuring enhanced precision and accuracy.
This achievement set the stage for AR adoption among surgeons worldwide, even igniting discussions about the possibility of AR becoming the standard for all surgical interventions. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which immerses users in a fully computer-generated environment, AR merges computer-generated imagery with the real world, and the impact of AR on health care extends far beyond the operating room.
Empowering Patient Education and Visualization
From small offices to the OR, healthcare providers in nearly every medical setting can benefit from AR. Whether it’s used to identify veins for medication administration or to deliver personalized patient education, AR helps enhance the patient experience and foster better communication between doctors and their patients. Through this technology, medical professionals can present complex information in an accessible and visually compelling manner.
Enhanced Symptom Communication and Rehabilitation
Patients often struggle to accurately articulate their symptoms, which can create a delay in diagnosis and treatment. To bridge this gap, many patients can now utilize AR glasses to provide visual aids that help them better describe their symptoms to healthcare providers. This, in turn, allows providers to deliver quicker, more informed diagnoses and treatment plans. AR glasses are also being used to immerse patients in doctor-regulated therapeutic environments, which help enhance pain management.
Redefining Medical Training and Collaboration
Medical education is entering a new era as AR is increasingly becoming an indispensable tool for students to explore the intricacies of the human body, simulate complex procedures and hone their skills with lifelike realism. With AI enriching these virtualized environments, learners receive responsive, real-time feedback that enables them to perfect their skills, ultimately shaping a new generation of healthcare professionals in the modern age. And because the AR environment is digital, it can be shared with others, so students in a classroom can see on a screen what their colleague is seeing through the AR glasses. Bolstered by all of the affordances that AR and AI offer, medical training has become more accessible and interactive than ever before.
The Future of AR in Healthcare
The potential of AR with AI in health care is still far from fully explored. As the industry ushers in a new generation of advanced technologies, doctors will be able to utilize AR-powered collaboration tools to consult with colleagues—and even guide each other through procedures—without even being in the same room. AR and AI have also made inroads in medical research and development, as pharmaceutical and genomics companies adopt these technologies to help their teams better visualize viruses and identify and develop new drugs and therapies.
Such a change might initially seem intimidating, although many key advancements in healthcare often are—the now commonplace minimally invasive laparoscopy was initially met with great skepticism. But, AR and AI have already proven to be valuable across the healthcare industry. As both technologies continue to advance, AR technology will become more precise and user-friendly, with headsets designed for comfort during prolonged wear, more authentic representations of medical imagery and a wider field of vision for optimized performance. And healthcare professionals will be empowered with greater ability to deliver exceptional care while simultaneously driving acceptance of AR innovation within the medical community.