The place of augmented reality in medical education was firmly cemented over the past few years.
Large institutions from universities to think tanks are exploring the place of AR in the medical field, and the consensus is that the possibilities for training are huge.
Whether you’re a medical professional or a technology developer, this is a trend you need to know all about.
So let’s take a look at how AR is transforming the way our doctors, nurses, and even patients learn.
1. Hands-On Training
Currently, there’s a large disconnect in the middle of a healthcare professional’s training.
First, they spend months or years studying in a classroom environment. Books, tests, and videos galore, all aimed at teaching them the skills and knowledge they’ll need
The next thing they know, students and interns are thrown into a real hospital environment.
There, they contend with a score of stressors and problems, all while struggling to apply their new skills for the first time.
The problem? There’s no intermediary step.
There’s very little opportunity for students to practice their skills in a safe environment.
It’s one of the few professions that goes from “0 to 60” in this way, and it’s one of the worst professions imaginable to have this problem.
Augmented reality can provide that intermediary step.
With the power of AR, a foam dummy or other model can be nearly as responsive as a real person.
Students can poke and prod and make all the mistakes they need, without causing any pain, discomfort, or injury.
The AR display can provide the same feedback as a real person in a safe classroom environment.
Easing medical students into practical work this way will be easier on the students, and ultimately, result in better professionals.
2. Responsive Reference
One of the most powerful aspects of augmented reality is its ability to present information to us.
Although it excels at injecting digital objects into a real-world space, one of its most exciting applications is recognizing physical objects and telling us more about them.
For the aspiring healthcare professional, this can be an invaluable learning tool.
An AR headset could, for example, identify bones and muscles as the student looks at a model, or even a real person.
Today, medical students spend months laboriously memorizing the name and function of every part of the human body, along with what can go wrong with them.
In the future, AR could overlay that information directly onto the body.
A doctor could focus on the patient’s pain spot, and their headset could automatically list a number of potential diagnoses, and how to confirm them.
It could also let the user interface with instruments like never before.
For example, if an x-ray had identified a foreign object in a patient’s digestive system, the AR headset could highlight the area in question on the patient’s skin.
All of this isn’t about making medicine easier, as such. Medical professionals will still spend years in training, and rightly so.
It’s about making the process more efficient, and eliminating error.
If a doctor doesn’t need to hit the reference books before making a diagnosis, then that could save precious minutes in a potentially life-or-death situation.
3. Heads-Up Display
Think of your favorite science-fiction movies. From Robocop to Iron Man, chances are the film includes augmented reality in some form.
How many times have you seen the hero gazing out across the battlefield, numbers and data whizzing past their eyes?
Now imagine a surgery scene, perhaps from the same movies.
That’s called a heads-up display, and it’s more reality than sci-fi these days.
Fighter pilots have been using them for years, and now with consumer-grade AR, it’s about to be available to medical professionals as well.
Imagine a surgery scene from those same sorts of movies. “Blood pressure is spiking!”
By wearing an AR headset, a surgeon could have the patient’s vitals in view at all times.
Literally any instrument in the operating room can be transmitted into the headset, saving precious seconds and eliminating communication problems.
And what’s more, students could follow along, seeing the same information overlaid over the patient as they watch from the operating theatre.
This will let them learn faster and better than ever before, as they are transported directly into the operating room, observing the surgeon’s digital tools as she uses them.
4. Manipulable 3D Models
In the classroom setting, AR is already making huge strides.
Using HoloLens and other existing augmented reality hardware, medical students can manipulate realistic 3D models of parts of the body, helpfully labeled with facts and figures the student must learn.
Physical models and even cadavers have been part of the medical education process for years, but only with AR is it possible for a student to investigate a virtual body in action.
How else could a student manipulate a beating heart, or a breathing lung?
It’s leading to a genuinely improved understanding of how the body works, and it’s happening faster than ever before.
Some of these applications are even networked, allowing for the teacher and students to explore the model together.
The teacher can highlight parts of the body as a visual aid as they lecture, and students can do the same to ask questions.
Read on, as we further explore five of these amazing real-world applications.
5. Educating the Patient
Finally, augmented reality is growing to take a critical role in patient education.
A well-informed patient is just as valuable to healthcare as a doctor or nurse, in many cases.
A patient who knows how to identiy and describe symptoms can aid the diagnostic process.
Similarly, a patient who understands drug interactions might save themselves a great deal of harm.
And a patient who knows when to call the doctor, and when a couple of aspirin is enough, is one of the most valuable things of all in the medical field.
Using mobile-based augmented reality, nurses and doctors can educate their patients in exactly what is going on in their bodies, and how to stop problems from arising.
By holding a phone over an arm, for example, a nurse might bring up a display of their veins and arteries, showing them in a tangible way the damage a blood clot could do.
This isn’t a hypothetical. The AccuVein system is available and in use now, projecting the patient’s real veins onto their skin.
It’s a boon not only for education, but also for administering shots and drawing blood.
Let’s look at five more real-life examples of how AR is changing the medical education field.
5 Real-Life Examples of Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education
1. Touch Surgery
This UK-based startup made waves a few years ago with their app-based simulations of various surgical procedures.
By tapping and swiping on a mobile device, aspiring surgeons could review realistic, detailed steps for dozens of medical procedures.
At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, Touch Surgery unveiled their augmented reality sims for the first time.
Using a Microsoft Hololens or other augmented reality HMD, surgeons can view reference material about a surgery, while looking at a real patient in the operating room.
The technology has yet to be deployed in a hospital environment, but the potential is huge.
Touch Surgery had a working demo at CES, and it’s only a matter of time before it makes its way into the field.
2. Complete Anatomy
At the other end of the spectrum, targeting the classroom environment, is Complete Anatomy.
The educational software package from 3D4Medical uses augmented reality to present fully manipulable 3D models of the entire human body.
The detail of the models is astounding, from a complete overview down to the functions of individual valves of the heart.
Several universities, including the University of Copenhagen, use the apps to supplement or even in lieu of the traditional anatomical atlas.
The suite’s augmented reality features allow for organs to be placed on any flat surface, such as a desk.
Students can rotate, flip, and zoom the model, or physically walk around it to get the perfect angle to illustrate a point.
3. MedStar SITEL
The Simulation Training & Education Lab, or SITEL, is located in Washington, DC and Baltimore.
It uses the latest technologies, along with a host of older ones, to provide hands-on training to employees of MedStar, a large 10-hospital medical network located in the area.
In 2017, SITEL jumped into the AR space. Their latest programs involve the use of a physical dummy.
Students can practice defibrillation and other medical techniques on the model, and see the results reflected in its simulated vitals, in real time.
The facility uses the Microsoft HoloLens to achieve the effect, which is in active use now. The result is far more effective than simple verbal feedback from an instructor.
SITEL has expanded its team with dedicated AR and VR specialists in order to further develop its digital offering.
In the future, an entire operating room might exist in simulated form, with a team of doctors working in tandem to save a virtual patient.
Billed as “the most advanced medical simulation tool on the market”, SimX is designed to completely replace the medical dummy common in classrooms.
The software is available in both virtual and augmented reality configurations, with each offering its own advantages.
Using the digital toolset, an instructor can program the virtual dummy with any body shape and medical condition needed.
The patient can be tall, short, fat, thin, and can suffer from any number of ailments.
Students use handheld VR controllers to interact with the dummy, diagnosing problems and administering treatments.
In the AR configuration, the virtual patient can be inserted into any physical space.
Students can learn their trade in an actual operating room, or in the cramped confines of an ambulance.
SimX is seeking clients now, and the product has enjoyed healthy press coverage from outlets including Bloomberg, TechCrunch, and Business Insider.
5. Eon Reality
One of the pioneers in the AR/VR space, Eon Reality has made a name for themselves with a huge selection of simulated training tools.
In the medical field, the UK-based company offers AR Medical Diagnostics.
The app was developed in conjunction with Britain’s National Health Service, and leverages the latest tech to teach three specific medical topics.
Using a tablet, students can view a detailed 3D model, which may be superimposed over a real person.
By manipulating the model through guided steps, and reviewing the associated on-screen reference materials, students learn how to assist with a breech birth, a chest/lung emergency, and diagnosis of sepsis.
These three use cases were specifically chosen by the NHS as difficult to teach in the classroom, and the move to digital has been met with widespread approval.
With its range of AR/VR applications spanning multiple industries, Eon Reality is a great example of how tech innovators can make a difference by leveraging their knowledge and creativity.
In the medical field and others, Eon is well-regarded as a stellar technology partner.