Immersive tech is a term that refers to technologies that extend reality by using the neuroscience of the human brain. It includes technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR). Immersive tech is at the forefront of disruptive innovations in the healthcare industry.
Now let’s picture a scenario, just to put the thought into perspective. Imagine you’re suffering from a sickness and none of your home remedies work nor do the googled prescriptions. So you finally decided to get professional help. As you reach the hospital and wait your turn to consult your physician, your weariness just builds up. Finally, it’s your turn, you walk up to the door and open it, as you greet your doctor and close the door behind you, you start talking to yourself, “how am I supposed to explain it to him?” Then, you somehow narrate your plight and wait in anticipation for a diagnosis.
Here’s when the doctor lends you a headset and asks you to put it on. As you do, your eyes witness what seems like the inner anatomy of your body. As you observe the unfamiliar scene that is the cause of your sickness, your doctor explains to you your condition and demonstrates to you through the video how the prescribed medicine will help your condition. Like that, you get your diagnosis and the confidence that you will get better.
This is just a scratch at the surface of the potential of immersive tech. This illustration is not just imaginary anymore. This is already a reality in some places and in the coming years, it will revolutionize how the healthcare industry works, learns, and functions.
Scope of Immersive Tech
We’ve all heard about AR, VR, and MR. Sometimes, people tend to use AR and VR alternatively, but they are different fields. Let us understand their concepts and the expanse of their potential.
You must have come across VR headsets in markets or in advertisements. These days some shopping complexes have VR centers also. Virtual Reality, as the name suggests, is completely virtual. It takes the user into a virtually designed landscape. VR games are the application most people are familiar with. Where we see people sitting in a bobbing chair and putting on a VR headset. What we see is a person bobbing up and down, side to side on a chair, but what the user is experiencing is completely different. He might be riding a rollercoaster, bob-sleighing through zombie land, or one of the many possibilities that we leave to your creativity. So, that is VR. Applying VR for medical rehabilitation is proven to be highly efficient.
Coming to Augmented Reality, it is not completely virtual. AR overlays virtual information on real-world backgrounds. The most well-known application of AR is the infamous PokemonGo. If you ever hunted for pokemon in your neighborhood, you know how it works. AR augments the real environment by imposing digital objects on top of the landscape. So that when viewed with an AR tablet or mobile, you experience a reality that is different from the actual one. Applying AR for training is set to transform the efficiency of healthcare professionals.
Mixed Reality or MR, is the combination of AR and VR. That is, it enables the interaction and manipulation of both the physical and the virtual realms. To understand the working of MR, we could take reference from one of the earth’s mightiest heroes – Iron man aka Tony Stark. MR anchors virtual objects onto real-world backdrops, unlike how AR just overlays them. Thus making it possible for us to manipulate it using MR HoloLenses. Applying MR to medical care helps tackle complex procedures by projecting a 3D view, which makes it easier for surgeons to understand or explain the anatomy.
Applications of Immersive Tech
Now that we understand the ways in which AR, VR, and MR work, let us go on to discover how they are applied in the healthcare industry.
#1 Augmented Surgery
Employing AR in surgical procedures reduces errors and processing time while bettering the operating experience. AR overlays a digital image on a surgeon’s view of the operating area, and since AR images can portray the blood vessels and nerves with better clarity, it reduces surgical errors and improves the success rate for complex surgeries.
#2 Safe Trails
With VR, the concept of 30% success rate, 5% success rate, and such uncertain probabilities go out the window. VR helps surgeons to experiment with various procedures for a single condition regarding a certain patient. Conventionally, complex procedures are first run on cadavers or plastic manikins, however, it is impossible to create the exact OT (operation theatre) experience in that way. So, by using VR, success rates of operations can be enhanced and different methodologies can also be discovered.
Immersive Tech is a great way to impart training to medical personnel. Statistics show that people who’ve trained using AR, VR, and MR tech have shown an 80% retention rate even after a year of training, but, those who were given traditional training showed only 20% retention just after a week of training. This shows how efficient it is to use immersive tech to train our healthcare professionals; because effective training methods lead to sound medical practices.
#4 Human Touch
The importance of this in healthcare cannot be overstated. No matter how far the innovations of this era expand unless they don’t have a human quotient in them, they cannot be applied to the healthcare industry. Fortunately for us, Immersive tech is accompanied by haptic technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces and vibrations. This offers the feeling of true immersion in those environments.
Studies show that patients undergoing rehabilitation lose motivation for activities. Rehab can be tough. Firstly, there is a trauma aspect for most people in rehab centers. Secondly, being cut off from the outside world, doing the same tasks daily while most of them involve some kind of pain can be hard. Thirdly, most people lose motivation as they cannot see themselves getting any better.
VR-based rehab enables professionals to diagnose both the physical and cognitive aspects of a patient. For instance, in a VR-based rehab, a walk on a treadmill can be designed to offer the same experience as a walk in a park or a walk along the beach. Such exciting tasks elevate the interest of patients and stimulate their brains as well as their bodies. Also, studies show that parts of the brain linked to pain are less active when a patient is immersed in VR.
Challenges and Way Forward
With such amazing utilities, there must be no reason not to adopt these technologies in our healthcare practices. However, concerns like the high risk involved in unproven technology when dealing with human life, the question of the ‘human touch’, and data compliance and privacy issues put faster adoption of technologies at bay.
Nevertheless, as times are changing, perspectives are widening. Also, the pandemic has opened many doors to understand and uncover the vast potential and utilities of these immersive technologies. The era of immersion is upon us and the day is not far when these techs will be made mainstream.