Health care in the era of augmented and virtual reality

September 20, 2011

Augmented Reality (AR) is a much-discussed topic and technology set for major growth. But what does it really mean? AR completes our view of the real-world environments by adding fictional elements, which enhance what we see, hear, feel, and smell. Today, augmented reality is used in many industries, such as cars, environment, fashion, photography, video games and now also in the health sector.

Definition and distinction between virtual reality and augmented reality
Augmented Reality is a term for the integration of computer generated images and virtual objects into the user’s perception of the real world, all in real-time 3D. In short, AR adds objects that don’t necessarily exist to your computer or smartphone while you’re looking at it; hence it supplements the real world instead of replacing it. Augmented reality is different from virtual reality (VR): the latter is more complex as it creates a whole new world for the user to explore. Augmented reality is therefore closer to the “actual” reality than virtual reality.

Medical augmented reality applications and tools
AR and VR are particularly useful in medical training and in the treatment of diseases and injuries.

Training of physicians
We’ve previously mentioned Pulse! here on the blog, a serious game which is a virtual learning space for training health care professionals.

Another example is VirTeaSy Implant Pro by Didhaptic a virtual reality platform, which trains dentists and dentistry students to master dental implantology, a set of surgical techniques, by working on a virtual jaw.

VeinViewer by Christie Digital creates a real-time digital image of the patient’s vein pattern projected directly on the skin using near-infrared light, which gives physicians an easier access to the veins.

VeinViewer Product Demonstration from Christie on Vimeo.

Treatment of diseases and injuries

Live Up by Fithealth is a rehabilitation tool that stimulates the lower and upper body through augmented and virtual reality, e.g. using an avatar.

Even phobias can be treated with AR and VR, as the Spanish Universitat Jaume has showed us.In this case, cockroach phobia is the topic in question, but it has been proven that AR and VR can treat many other phobias, such as fear of heights and claustrophobia.As you see, new digital technology is already changing the way physicians practice medicine. What other applications of Augmented Reality would you like to see in everyday life?

Photo credit: Fithealth / Didhaptic