Extended reality, namely VR and AR, has been widely accepted as a way to engage users in entertainment. What garners less attention from the mainstream audience is XR’s potential in medicine. There are so many new ways for doctors to not only augment their own experience, but that of their patients. Breakthroughs in this technology are reaching levels on par with the type of stuff we only thought we’d see in Sci-Fi movies!
AR is being used to help in visualizing data, and making this data readily accessible to doctors and nurses as they do work. Augmented Reality is exactly what it sounds like- put on a headset and you are augmenting the reality you perceive, by placing virtual elements into your existing environment. In a medical context, this could be overlaying text and anatomical diagrams onto a patient, for example. A great example of this technology at work is AccuVein, which is used for vein visualization, revealing to medical professionals what is hidden beneath the skin so they can do their job more efficiently. This is primarily used in starting IVs or drawing blood. This product was able to improve nurses’ ability to find veins that cannot be easily seen or felt: 98 percent in pediatric cases and 96 percent with adult patients (Forbes).
Both VR and AR are being put to use as a means to relax patients, whether it be for general pain treatment/ therapy or to prepare them for operations that do not involve an anesthetic. VR Vaccine in Brazil conducted a research study where they showed children a calming immersive story using VR headsets during the process of administering a vaccine. The story on screen was synchronized with the process of cleaning the skin and injecting the vaccine in real life, which in the end was able to help children who had a fear of needles (Forbes). At St George’s Hospital in London, patients who were scheduled for operations under regional anesthetic were given the opportunity to use a VR headset before and during the procedure. The experience within the headset consisted of calming music and colorful landscapes. Upon being interviewed, 80% of the patients stated that they felt less pain (Forbes).
Haptics is one of the newest forms of XR technology at the moment, but is advancing rapidly. Haptic technology virtually replicates our sense of touch using air pressure or actuators. These sorts of products have been most helpful in the medical education space. Medical companies are working on simulations that allow medical students to conduct virtual surgeries, but have their tools react to their hand pressure as they would in real life. When the student’s scalpel hits a virtual bone, the tool will “push back” simulating an actual obstruction ( Haptics – Touchfeedback Technology Widening the Horizon of Medicine).