Much of the initial hype surrounding Pokemon Go focused on its use of an innovative technology: augmented reality. What does augmented reality mean, and how can it benefit healthcare? As the name suggests, augmented reality (AR) describes a technology which superimposes digital images upon a real-life scene. Phones with camera lenses are already widely used in retail settings, and Google plans to take this concept even further with Project Glass. However, the term is somewhat vague, and may actually describe many different technologies that we hear about these days.
In some ways, augmented reality could help healthcare by allowing patients to see exactly what they are getting into before they put anything on. There are already several different applications for Google Glass, and the idea is that it would allow doctors to train more effectively. In theory, doctors could enter a patient’s history and physiology, then look up vital signs, read their vitals, check for allergies, and so forth. If there were any conditions that weren’t currently known about, such as a heart condition or diabetes for instance, the glasses would pop up with additional details. This would greatly simplify healthcare, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
In addition to simplifying the healthcare industry, augmented reality could revolutionize how it works. Currently, there are already thousands of apps already in development for Google Glass, and many of them could do for the industry what augmented reality did for the entertainment sector. Smartphones with GPS could track your mileage, search for restaurants, and even tell you which hotel has the best food. Health care apps will no doubt come along, streamlining processes that doctors and hospitals currently do every day.
What does all this mean for the future of healthcare? Even though Google isn’t yet opening the doors to augmented reality applications for its mobile devices, it isn’t too far away. Already, they’re on the verge of launching Tango, an augmented reality program that works with phones and tablets. Soon, they’ll be open sourcing their Project Tango developer kit, meaning any developer anywhere is capable of creating smart phone applications meant to improve healthcare. This will open up a world of possibilities.
Right now, doctors can make the most out of Google Glass by using it as a specialized tool. For instance, if a doctor suspects that a patient is suffering from dehydration, he can scan his face with the device and determine whether he needs fluids or not. The same can be done with x-rays, giving doctors accurate, real time information about a person’s condition. The sky’s the limit on what a doctor can do with these types of smart phones and tablets. It’s amazing how quickly technology can advance, and we’re only at the beginning of its impact on our healthcare.
Of course, there are a few concerns about the use of new technology in the medical industry. For one, there’s the ethical issue: is it fair for patients to be treated unfairly through the use of new technology? This is one of the biggest problems that many healthcare professionals face, particularly in the pharmaceutical and hospital industries. On the other hand, there’s also a business perspective that says doctors should be able to take advantage of any new tools to increase their revenue. After all, the government provides tax breaks for research and development, which allows hospitals to purchase new equipment and research new ways to treat patients. In this way, doctors can gain money through the sale of existing products and services.
However, there’s still plenty of work to be done here. Companies like Clearview Medical in Boston are working on creating custom AR applications that can be used in a variety of health situations. They’ve created tools that can accurately detect lupus in real time, helping to better treat the disease in real life. Other companies are working on similar applications. If these developers can successfully make them available on mobile phones and tablets, they could offer significant improvements in how healthcare workers understand and treat patients.
As these devices become more common in both doctor’s offices and surgical centers, the development will no doubt continue. It’s expected that within a few years, augmented reality may well replace contact lenses as the device of choice for surgeons and nurses going into surgery. The obvious benefit to patients is that their eyes are not only seen clearly, but can also be controlled and viewed on a map. With this kind of technology, anyone who is sick or injured can see a more vivid image of themselves, as well as being able to ask their doctors questions or get more detailed information about their surgical procedure.