Our experience with Augmented Reality, or simply put as AR, is not something new. Believe it or not, its application has been showcased in a wide variety of movies. I bet if I show you an image (Figure 1) you can immediately connect with what I am saying. Behold, 2009 blockbuster hit movie, ‘Avatar’:

F1Figure 1. Example of AR from the movie ‘Avatar’: The images overlaid on the real objects are computer generated imageries (CGI) that enables enhanced 3D visualization of objects in the actual environment (Scene from the movie ‘Avatar’).

Augmented Reality or AR is an interactive technology platform that enables users to overlay CGI images on real-world sensory inputs or scenes in real time. A more recent example that brought personal interactive experience with the real world was the AR-guided game Pokémon Go.

Intriguingly, the use of AR goes way back as early as the 1991 movie ‘Terminator 2’ (use of heads-up display or HUDs). History suggests that in his 1901 book ‘The Master Key’, author L. Frank Baum imagines the use of glasses with the extraordinary ability to overlay information onto real objects. But it was not until the 1968 invention of head-mounted 3D display by Ivan E. Sutherland that the idea of perspective in moving images was introduced. This was a revolutionary invention that eventually led to the introduction of AR in our lives and significantly changed the way we visualized objects: this could be the virtual yellow first-down line in NFL or the HUD technologies used in fighter jets that could potentially be integrated in cars.

In recent years, among other industries such as gaming, film, and defense, AR has gained substantial traction in the advancement of medical education. In a 2014 study by Kamphuis et al., the use of AR has been delineated in the learning process of complex skills such as developing clinical excellence. Such a professional domain that involves an interplay of safety and financial risk in its learning environment creates the space for a technology that has the ability to augment virtual components to the physical world. That’s where the power of AR comes in. It recreates a collaborative learning environment that bridges the gap between complex theoretical knowledge and the visual understanding of a medical process in a real environment developing the necessary psychomotor skills in the safest way possible. The use of AR has also extended into the sphere of patient education, where it is easy for a medical practitioner to explain complicacies of a disease pathology to a patient using various applications (apps). One example of such an app used by medical practitioners in ophthalmology is EyeDecide developed by OrcaMD. In this approach, AR is used to inform the patient through visual illustration the complicacies of eye diseases such as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), as explained in Figure 2.

F2Figure 2. Illustration of the progression of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) using AR: The above image depicts the use of AR in patient education to explain the progression in the pathology of Age-related Macular Degeneration in the gradually degenerating eye and the respective vision simultaneously. (Adapted from the iMedical Apps article).

In a 2014 study by Mountney et al., Augmented Reality has been described as a major application in laparoscopic soft tissue surgery. A major bottleneck in such therapeutic modalities that involves minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is image guidance, where a pre-operative image (CT/MRI) is registered with an intra-operative laparoscopic image. Such alignment is often a problem due to the limited viewing field of the laparoscopic camera. AR has been documented in the identification of such anatomical challenges by facilitating image guidance including visualization of sub-surfaces and eventual removal of tumors.  Pre-planning of such complex surgeries can be propelled significantly by AR-derived medical technologies.

Needless to say, the development of AR has a tremendous potential to shape future healthcare. Based on a study published in Medtech Boston, due to AR’s and VR’s (Virtual Reality) accelerating importance in medical education and training, surgical planning, telementoring, therapies, patient care, and experience, the use of this technology is expected to experience a rapid growth over the next few years. The projected revenue breakdown illustrated in the infographic (Figure 3; based on data generated by Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research) clearly suggests a higher adoption rate of VR & AR based applications in the health-care industry. Nearly 14% market penetrance by healthcare in the VR and AR applications industry is promising and can be extrapolated majorly due to the prospect of the advancement of medical education and patient care through increased AR/VR applications in the years to come.


Figure 3. Revenue opportunity of VR and AR applications. The figure illustrates the potential revenue of VR and AR applications in 2025 under base case scenario. (Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research & Statista; Proximie blog & Touchstone Research Infographic).





Cover photo credit: Brother UK