4 Aug · 8 min read
With the current pandemic, many countries are investing heavily in healthcare, particularly in cutting-edge technology. We could spend a lot of time discussing the medical marvels in use today, but let’s start with something small - augmented reality in medicine.
Augmented reality (AR) is one of 3 major extended reality technologies (the others are VR and MR) that allow us to improve our quality of life with the help of software and hardware, connecting the digital and the physical planes. VR in healthcare has its own role, but AR is widely considered the most accessible.
This might surprise you if you haven’t experienced augmented reality before, but AR in the healthcare industry is already a big hit and used globally. In this article, we will show you why this is, and help you get started with AR app development.
There are a bunch of different use cases where augmented reality and medicine work great together and the goal is always the same: improving the quality of healthcare. This is possible with the functions granted by AR: using a device screen and camera to capture a user’s surroundings and visualize digital elements on top Let’s examine a list of real-life augmented reality use cases in healthcare:
Reusable endoscopes are used in approximately half a million gastrointestinal medical procedures every year. Without proper cleaning, this poses a threat to patients, as they could transmit infections from one to another.
To address such a risk, the Riverside Health System in Virginia, U.S.A. created a helpful AR app. The app works by visualizing cleaning techniques and providing simple step-by-step instructions for the staff to repeat.
There are already several AR applications out there that help with complex surgery procedures. For instance, they can either show surgical instructions through AR goggles or a regular smartphone. The idea behind augmented reality surgery is to show an overlay image where the operation should take place, based on MRI and CT scans from the patient.
One example of such a tool is being used in JFK University Medical Center, where surgeons are aided by the app in visual navigation. This tool has successfully managed to pair a surgical microscope with a 360° visualization platform and provide vital bodily information in a matter of seconds.
Doctors and nurses have an important role in educating and reassuring patients, but there are certainly cases when this learning process can happen without their participation.
For example, patients can now learn about the procedures they see how their vision might improve after surgery with a special solution deployed at the Translational Medicine Research Center in Istanbul. In this case, the visuals were not generated by a smartphone, but rather a special projector and lens that create an immersive hologram.
Telemedicine software is becoming increasingly popular because it opens the door for patients to receive much of their care remotely without hospital visits. AR is starting to dominate this field of development because of the technology’s capacity to capture footage with a camera.
We can see this type of solution applied by G60 Trauma, a private healthcare firm in Arizona that provides patients with augmented reality nursing through a virtual assistant. The assistant scans and interacts with the patient, performing checkups and identifying issues with posture.
Hospitals can be a scary place but become even more so when their layout is complicated and mazelike. At least, this is what it often feels like for kids.
In an effort to address the issue, the Children’s Health Centre in Surrey, Canada built a fun AR app for kids. It features a colorful squirrel named Chip that helps children find their way through this hospital.
When paired with machine learning, AR produces incredible results because of its ability to detect some of the most dangerous diseases very quickly. At least, this was the case with a study conducted in multiple countries by researchers using a so-called AR microscope.
The hospitals involved in the research didn’t have to change their existing microscopes, since digital cameras captured the footage and fed the results to a custom AR display and ML algorithm. Augmented reality, combined with machine learning outperformed even the top trained pathologists in identifying various health defects.
Cooperation between medical staff in different locations is extremely important in situations where one side lacks critical expertise. Some solutions in this field exist, but augmented reality can improve the experience by making visualizations realistic and helpful in where they are displayed.
This system is being tested in military settings by researchers from Purdue University working closely with army medics. A person performing a medical procedure wears a headset that transmits footage to medical staff. They can then remotely annotate the screen with live information and guidance.
By now, you can already see how big of a role AR can play in healthcare. Let’s recap some of the advantages we covered above:
With AR development on the rise, many great AR medical apps are already available to use, and they can be useful to both sides - patients and medical personnel. Let’s review some of the best AR health apps out there:
1. ARnatomy – As the name suggests, this is an app dedicated to helping people learn about the human body. It’s very simple to use and people can even scan their own bodies to see the anatomy. It was primarily developed for students to get more familiar with human biology.
2. smARtsKin – This is surely one of the best augmented reality apps for healthcare in the field of cancer treatment. When a patient undergoes radiotherapy, they must be placed in a specific body position. This application uses AR technology in combination with cameras as guidance for patient positioning which improves their safety drastically.
3. Dorothy – A solution for people with memory problems. Users are reminded about their daily tasks and they are guided around the house if they can’t remember the way. If a user goes somewhere on their own, their caregiver is notified via live alert, which is super useful in cases of Alzheimer’s.
4. Mandarin Health – A mobile application developed to help you increase your good habits and decrease the bad ones. It helps you visualize the status of your body’s health by taking the health data you have inputted and creating a detailed 3D representation of your body systems.
5. AR Eye – Would you love to know how visually impaired people see the world? With this application, you can see how it would look if you had eye disease such as glaucoma. Other than that, you are also able to explore the human eye by learning about the parts which make up our eyes.
The future of augmented reality in medicine reality looks bright, but there are still some challenges. For example, in order to get the application approved in the healthcare system, it has to follow strict medical guidelines. Furthermore, any inaccurate information provided in-app can have terrible repercussions on patient health.
You can see the difficulty of development firsthand in our Hand Rehabilitation VR training application. This application allows patients to gradually improve their hands’ range of motion through exercises conducted with haptic gloves and a headset. Each patient has a virtual trainer called Andy who shows them the movements that they have to do.
One of our biggest challenges was crafting the code for precise motion tracking. Hand rehabilitation sometimes involves exercises with barely any movement, so the tracker had to register even the smallest hand movement. We had to do a lot of different physical testing to get this system to work.
In addition to this, we invested a lot of time into research about rehabilitation and the creation of several animations, sounds, 3D models, and VFX to ensure the experience is not inferior to real-life rehabilitation in any way.
To have a smooth experience with your AR application, you have to meet certain requirements. These requirements include hardware, software, and people who will develop the application.
In terms of hardware, you can target common devices like smartphones accessible to most users or create experiences for specialized gear like headsets and goggles. You can even try a universal approach and deploy your application through WebAR, delivering the augmented reality process in medicine on all devices with a web browser.
There are several different software development kits available to develop AR and VR applications. It usually comes down to personal preference, but here is a list of the 4 most popular AR software development kits:
● Vuforia – One of the most popular SDK for creating AR apps.
● Wikitude – You can develop AR applications for platforms such as Android, iOS and Smart Glass.
● ARKit – Developed by Apple and specifically made for iOS.
● ARCore – Developed by Google, but unlike ARKit, it can be used for both Android and iOS.
Developing an AR application takes a lot of time, and it’s very hard for beginners to get into this kind of development. It usually takes a couple of developers to work on an AR project, unless you have a really talented Senior coder as we did with the Hand Rehabilitation VR training.
If you have an idea involving AR & medicine, but lack the skills or time to develop it, why not leave it to the professionals? It’s always better to have a development partner that specializes in this field who can build apps faster and cheaper.
Program-Ace is a leader among augmented reality healthcare companies, with a solid track record of developing immersive solutions.
Why choose us?
● We have over 27 years of experience in software development.
● Numerous successful AR projects published.
● We work with all types of industries, from entertainment to healthcare.
● We are an award-winning R&D company with a lot of awesome projects behind us.
When you are ready to get started and discuss your project, just contact us.
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