How Augmented Reality Serves the Healthcare Industry

May 01, 2018

Medical and healthcare apps with AR functionalities help doctors more accurately diagnose and treat patients. 

The medical and healthcare industries use modern technologies, such as CT scan and MRI, to help diagnose and treat their patients.

Augmented reality (AR) is the next trend-setting technology set to dominate the healthcare industry given its dynamic and highly valuable usage.

AR technologies stack – the frameworks, languages, and software products used to build AR applications - are expected to grow to a $90B industry by 2020.

AR has wide-reaching implications that can transform the medical sector – from providing real-time data and virtual assistance during complex surgical procedures, to supporting aftercare treatment and physiotherapy sessions.

This article introduces various types of AR-powered devices and functions that aid patients and help doctors to react quickly to ailments and medical disorders.

Locating Nearby Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)

Augmented reality can be used to design GPS-based apps to aid patients in availing critical-condition medical aid.

An AED device, or an Automated External Defibrillator, is a lightweight, compact electronic device that can automatically detect serious cardiac conditions involving irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).

The AED4EU project created by Lucien Engelen, from the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, provides a tool to help people in emergencies find the nearest AED device using crowd-sourced information.

AED4EU Project

Using this tool, app users upload the location of an AED device they’ve discovered by sending its picture along with its GPS-based location. Volunteers confirm the upload by personally visiting the location and confirm if it is functional and available for immediate use.

AEDs are mapped on an interactive device screen that provides features to search for AEDs in nearby locations. The Dutch Red Cross uses the AED4EU app.

Finding Veins for Blood Sample Collection

AR technology can also make routine clinical tasks easy and timesaving.

Phlebotomy is a branch of medical sciences involving the process of extracting or removing blood from the circulatory system by incision, or puncturing a vein to obtain a sample for analysis and diagnosis purposes.

Normally, nurses and phlebotomists don’t experience many difficulties in detecting veins for collecting blood samples in patients. However, in case of some individuals who are obese or have very thin veins, nurses struggle to locate a usable vein.

In these cases, this process can result in puncturing patients’ arms in various places, which can discourage them to seek treatment.

Finding veins for blood sample collection

A start-up venture Accuvein uses AR technology in its AV400 Vein Viewing System to display a digital map of the skin’s surface in real time.

This allows clinicians to view skin and verify veins while avoiding incorrectly puncturing. With centre-line accuracy approximately equivalent to the width of a human hair, the AV400 can easily detect veins up to 10 mm deep below the skin and show where the veins are in a patient’s body.

This device has now been used on over 10 million patients.

Correctly Positioning Patients for Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy, known also as radiotherapy, is a treatment generally used to fight cancer, thyroid disease, blood disorders, and noncancerous growths.

During radiotherapy, it is very important to immobilize patients and place them accurately on the table to reduce harmful exposure.

Positioning for radiotherapy

SmARtsKin uses a camera-based guidance system for patient positioning and monitoring.

The system is capable of displaying patient support devices and checking for potential collisions with the linear accelerator – a machine used to administer radiation treatment for patients with cancer – prior to treatment, as well as continuously monitor the patient’s position and breathing during radiation therapy.

With more than 14 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year, radiation therapy (RT) is expected to play an important part in treating cancer patients globally. AR-based apps like SmARtsKin can help radiologists to provide better RT treatment and improve the survival rates of cancer patients.

Aiding Upper-Limb Neurorehabilitation After a Stroke

There’s a huge scope of using AR during rehabilitation processes and for regaining body movements after certain orthopedic procedures involving knee and shoulder surgeries.

A serious accident or stroke can cause a person to lose control over hand movements. This condition is described as an “upper limb deficit” and requires a neurorehabilitation clinic to regain power in patients' arms or upper limbs.

Therapy can last for months, and patients experience a gradual change over time in their arm movements before they can become normal and function independently.

Therapy can last for months and patients experience a gradual change over time in their arm movements before they can become normal and function independently.

MindMotion Pro is an FDA-approved rehab device that uses 3D Virtual Environment and AR technology to simulate the movement of hands on a display.

Aiding upper limb neurorehabilitations

MindMotion Pro provides in-depth therapeutic training built around evidence-based motor rehabilitation treatment practices – action observation, mirror therapy, motor imagery, and constraint-induced movement therapy – aimed at increasing the neural activity in affected brain areas.

The system displays a virtual image of hand movements on its screen as patients try to mimic the physiotherapy procedures. The augmented reality program compares the actual hand movements of the patients with those projected on the display, calculates the difference between simulated and actual movements, and displays the results on the screen.

The system can also identify areas of improvement and suggest improvement measures.

Helping the Visually Impaired Improve Sight

Eye-related disorders can be very difficult to treat, as ophthalmologists have to rely to a great extent on how their patients describe their problems and symptoms.

When patients can accurately report their exact symptoms, doctors can make more informed decisions and provide the correct treatment.

EyeDecide, an app developed by Orca Health, a Utah-based mobile software company, helps to bridge the gap between patients and doctors. It uses a camera display to simulate how certain conditions affect your vision.

For example, a patient suffering from a condition known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) gradually starts losing his or her vision over time.

Ophthalmologists have to check the extent to which the patient’s vision has degenerated. AR technology helps to display the effect of vision impairment on a screen.

Using the AR app, patients can visualize the type of effect the clinician is trying to explain. Moreover, you can select different environments such as homes, offices, and working places in the app.

Based on the environment selected, the app generates a simulation in the form of images showing different stages of vision impairment over time.

Even though ophthalmologists trust and depend more upon traditional forms of eye treatment, recent times have seen many AR based devices such as EyeDecide and Oxsight to help patients suffering from partial vision loss overcome their disabilities and lead a more independent life.

Augmented Reality Can Aid Healthcare

In the future, augmented reality is expected to play a vital role in the healthcare industry. Even though AR technologies are in the development phase and still need to evolve, many companies have designed apps that prove to be of value to end users.

If you’re a doctor or an individual experiencing a medical disorder of some sort, it’s worthwhile to remain informed about new apps being developed and how AR can help you deal with your health related problems in a better way.


About the Author

Manar Majmudar HeadshotMandar Majmudar is a digital marketing strategist at Sunflower Lab based in Hillard, Ohio. Sunflower Lab is an intersection of technology, business, and innovation. We are a family of software engineers, proud in our creativity and enthusiastic for all latest technology. Our goal is to deliver high-quality products with the highest quality service to our clients.

Along with providing custom software development, we deliver cloud systems integration, web and mobile app development, and management services. We are experts in utilizing proven cloud technologies and bringing best practices to our work.