Revolutionizing Healthcare With Augmented Reality

Published June 20, 2016

One of my earliest memories of the medical system was being stuck nine times – six times by a nurse, then three by a doctor—trying to find a good vein to take some blood. They eventually gave up, sent me to the hospital, where on the second time the blood was flowing. I proceeded to pass out on my way out of the procedure room. To this day, I have to lay down when I even see a needle. What a baby!

Recently, I read about a technology that allows a nurse or physician, through a pair of glasses (think Google Glass), to see a perfect image of a patient’s veins to avoid exactly the scenario I found myself in many years ago. This technology—often referred to as augmented reality— is becoming increasingly common in healthcare. Augmented reality differs from virtual reality.  Virtual reality transports the user to a totally different world—and many companies are betting big. Facebook, for example, has recently gone big in the space with a multi-billion dollar acquisition of Oculus. It’s common in gaming, and even amusement parks are moving into virtual reality to provide a new level of thrill.

Augmented reality is the little brother of virtual reality—and is here now, poised to revolutionize healthcare. Augmented reality adds to what is already in front of you—it augments that patient experience or the care provider’s view of the world. It provides the right information that is needed at exactly the time it is needed. Google Glass is an early example. Google Glass can add information such as a patient medical record to what is being viewed; it can provide medication alerts or send a real time alert to medication interactions. Augmented reality is now common in medical training and during minor surgeries to help guide the surgeon.

The next generation will help support patients heal and age in their home—outside of an institution- and support the movement to make the home the center of patient care. New “emotion readers” are being developed for people with autism to help them understand and react to social queues. Parkinson’s glasses will project grid lines on the floor to help patients improve mobility. Annotations for patients with cognitive impairments can help guide them around their home and support completion of basic tasks.

The possibilities are endless. And over time, augmented reality, which, to many of us seems foreign, will simply become the reality of how we live, age, and heal at home. And perhaps, my children will never have to lie down while giving blood, because the weak veins they inherited will not prevent any nurse from finding that vein the first time.

How do you see augmented reality supporting healthcare? Where do you feel the most significant applications are in helping patients heal and age at home?