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Use of Augmented Reality Mobile Apps
in Healthcare

By Juned Ghanchi

Augmented Reality (AR) involves viewing the real-world physical environment live either directly or indirectly after the elements have been "augmented" using video, graphics, sounds, haptics, GPS data or any other extracted real-world sensory input or computer-generated data. In short, this technology imposes computer-generated images over real-life scenarios. AR has many current applications that include gaming, education, advertising, retail, military, and healthcare. BY transforming human interaction with non-living things, AR has proved to be a game changer in these fields and millions of dollars are flowing into the AR business. However, its complete potential still needs to be explored.

The purpose of developments in technology and inventions has been to make a life of people easy. AR has great potential for improving the healthcare industry. Both patients and doctors can benefit by leveraging this technology by using connected devices like smartphones and tablets. As connected lenses and glasses are making massive improvements, mobile app developers are working on it to add valuable data to the treatment and make access to this information much more seamless in the future.

Augmented reality in healthcare

AR is unique because of two features. One, the users do not lose touch with reality, and two, it brings information to eyes very fast. These features make AR the driving force in the future of healthcare. More and more professionals are engaging with AR to leverage their daily tasks. Patient monitoring is the area of healthcare that is predicted to be affected the most by AR. Over the years, AR development has also become sophisticated to expand its application horizons, and it is expected that with the fall in production price, the use and benefits of AR will increase. For creating effective AR healthcare apps, you need to have a deeper knowledge of the ins and outs of this technology and its current implementations and challenges along with the future trends.

There is no doubt that AR is revolutionizing the healthcare industry. Several AR applications are highlighting the effectiveness of this technology in healthcare. Some of these are mentioned here...

  • For training doctors
    Healthcare specialists use AR training simulators that imitate real-life scenarios by combining real objects with computer-generated images. This facilitates more precise training.
  • For more accurate medical visualization
    A handheld device, named AccuVein, that scans and highlights the veins of a patient over the skin has been developed for assisting in giving intravenous (IV) injections. This accuracy in finding veins not only fewer punctures to the patients but is also cost-effective for the hospitals. To further enhance the right placement of the needle and prevent undue harm or injury to the patient, AIM 3D software has been developed by InnerOptic. This software is based on spatial technology and ultrasound.
  • For providing virtual treatment
    Psychiatrists, counsellors, and other mental health experts are increasingly using AR technology to treat patients who are unable to come to their office for standard treatments. Counsellors generally use exposure-based therapy for treating patients with anxiety disorders. This treatment modality is based on exposing patients to varying degrees of anxieties. Exposure-based therapy sessions can be conducted by counsellors using AR for treating anxiety disorders like phobias and have been found to give a powerful immersion experience to patients. Moreover, AR provides the counsellors with a safe and controlled means of exposing patients to their fears as an AR session can be stopped anytime when a patient feels uncomfortable.
  • For assisting in surgery
    AR simulators can be used for predicting organ movement and organ deformation when an actual surgery is taking place. The surgeons can make suitable adjustments critical for the procedure accordingly. Orthopaedic surgeons are using AR to view and plan reconstructions directly over the patient’s body. This decreases the number of distractions that were caused by viewing it on an external display. Neurosurgeons can also trace significant blood vessels and plan on how to remove tumours more safely.

    For surgeons performing complex operations, AR surgery has become more common with the introduction of Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP), by Surgical Theatre. This app provides the 3D, microscopic images of a patient’s tumour to the surgeons by connecting with operating room navigation systems. The doctors can then do a real-life fly through of a patient-specific surgery to achieve finest results.

Challenges in adopting AR healthcare apps

A lot still needs to be explored to make the maximum use of this technology in healthcare. However, certain challenges in the implementation of AR in healthcare need to be taken into account...

  • Hands-on adoption by healthcare sector a priority:
    The healthcare industry is traditionally very cautious of new technology and apprehensive about a significant digital transformation of the healthcare sector. So, the challenge here is to convince the healthcare leaders that AR is no longer just a gimmick or fad, and it can be used as a powerful tool after proper training in multiple areas of healthcare.
  • Controlling the overload of information:
    AR technology still needs to find methods for controlling the amount of information that needs to be displayed for different sections of people in the healthcare industry. The medical staff may feel overwhelmed with the introduction of a new tool that provides them more information than their existing information. This may cause alarm fatigue as presenting too much information may be worse than not giving any information to healthcare workers. For example, a primary care physician doesn’t want a year-long Fitbit data of the patient; rather a high-level overview is all that is needed by him. Similarly, a surgeon doesn’t need the live display of every moment of the patient’s vital signs. Instead, he would trust a nurse more for pointing out any deviations from the normal. This has led to overload factor being one challenge for AR developers.
  • Testing of AR healthcare apps:
    In healthcare, the AR apps are expected to appeal to a higher standard, and so there is an associated expectation that the app will be rigidly tested to assure that the app does exactly what it claims to do. Lack of resources for testing and refining the app may cause new mobile app development companies in the healthcare AR space to doom things for higher-quality companies as well. This causes the failure of AR as an idea and not because of the technology.

Future of AR healthcare apps

Though AR is making great leaps in other sectors with increasing investment in the technology, its future in healthcare is still unpredictable. While it promises a great potential, technology has always been used by people based on their needs. Though this technology is still in its infancy, healthcare sector should make use of the existing uses to the maximum level, and future may be holding still more innovative fascinations for healthcare sector using AR technology apps.

Author Bio:
Juned Ghanchi is the CMO of IndianAppDevelopers, a mobile app development company that specializes in Android and iOS based application development. He’s passionate about how mobile app technology is rapidly becoming the key to success for start-ups to corporate businesses.
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