COVID-19 Impact on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Healthcare

Posted by swarajya on May 26th, 2021

COVID-19 Impact on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Healthcare Industry

COVID-19 Impact on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Healthcare Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges before the healthcare industry. While the healthcare industries across countries are focusing on combating this particular pandemic, other areas of care are suffering. As a result, the industry is looking for technological solutions that will aid in enhancing efficiency to provide appropriate care to patients within various restrictions. As a result, COVID-19 has positively impacted the applications of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in the healthcare market.

Owing to several technological developments, augmented reality and virtual reality are gaining importance in the healthcare sector despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although both technologies have diverse differences and applications, they are anticipated to help the healthcare industry to improve. The below table demonstrates the differences between AR & VR:                         

Table 1: Difference between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR):

Augmented Reality

Virtual Reality

Incorporates real word with digital information overlay

Entirely digital world, completely independent from reality

User’s presence is required for the experience

User’s presence not necessary for the experience

Partially enclosed reality

Fully enclosed reality

Real world is central to experience, enhanced by augmented details

Virtual experience with no sense of real world

Full adoption with take a span of 3-7 years

Full adoption with take a span of 2-4 years

Partial see through capabilities

No see through capabilities

Several studies for global AR in the healthcare market point out that the healthcare industry is increasing year-on-year investments in augmented reality to make the technology mainstream in the coming years. Florida-based manufacturing services company Jabil conducted an Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology Trends Survey to understand the scope of adoption AR/VR. The survey conducted across technology and business stakeholders concluded that almost 70% of respondents believe AR/VR will become main-stream within five years.

Figure 1: Adoption of AR/VR in the Future

COVID-19 Impact on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Healthcare Industry

Among the various applications of augmented reality (AR) in healthcare, increasing the efficiency of surgeries is among the most after applications. As a result, the usage of augmented reality-enabled head-mounted displays (HMD) is currently used widely in surgeries. They are similar in appearance to smart glasses or virtual reality (VR) headsets. They provide information to surgeons regarding steps of the surgical procedure and supplementary information including medical images, patients’ vital signals, and steps involved in the surgery. Through the headset, augmented reality is used to share computer-generated models or super-imposed images that aid in increasing the efficiency of operation. For instance, to understand the injury of the specific parts, AccuVein Inc. develops projector like devices for displaying vasculature on the skin surface.

Intervention planning is greatly impacted by new techniques of visualization. Another example of a system aiding in intervention planning is the ARGUS system that assists a surgeon by displaying both intra-operative ultrasound data and pre-operative computer tomography in the 3D format in real-time. The system uses optically tracked augmented reality glasses. The system is set to be used as an orientation tool for planning the surgery or modification of old plans in the surgical theatre. The system will improve the collaboration between radiologists and surgeons as the radiologist can interact with a surgeon in remote assistance using an augmented image. Moreover, the system has the potential to increase the accuracy of operations and aid minimally invasive surgeries.  

The adoption of AR glasses for performing surgeries has also increased. For instance, St. Mary’s Hospital and Imperial College in London are conducting reconstructive surgery using advanced AR glasses. These glasses locate major blood cells accurately and show blood vessels in 3D format. AR glasses offer an alternative to handheld scanners for performing surgeries.   

Illinois-based Augmedics has developed an AR guidance system called xvisison spine system (XVS) that shows the 3-dimensional anatomy of the spine during surgery. The system also aids in surgeries by showing the positioning of surgical tools utilized during surgery in real-time.

Another application of augmented reality is for drug development or creating chemical structures as well. For example, the VisMol system utilizes AR technology to develop a prototype product.

Moreover, AR can be utilized for vein visualization, education, and surgical visualization especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where social distancing has become necessary. As the need for isolation is of the highest priority, the application of AR & VR helps in increasing safety during the pandemic.

Medical training is an endless loop with restricted admittance to operating rooms with professional surgeons. With VR, operating rooms no longer have restricted admittance. This innovation has just figured out how to change medical training. Virtual reality permits making sensible reproduction frameworks and safe conditions where medical students can get more understanding without putting patients in danger. Streaming operations in real-time continuously for training purposes turns into a far-reaching practice for sharing information.

The utilization of AR for training surgeons during the outbreak of COVID-19 is expected to be of immense use. In 2016, a surgery was streamed to students in real-time for the first time. The AR-fuelled training showed a 360-degree video of removing a cancer tumor. Currently, VR video streaming is helping surgeons in improving the degree of medical training in addition to training new age of surgeons. This methodology gives exceptional advantages to both medical students and patient's relatives who stress over their family members.

Augmented reality is also used in various medical training arrangements. Simultaneously, AR technology had never been utilized to teach patients. Clarifying the possible results of having negative propensities to patients can be testing. Demonstrating them these outcomes can significantly inspire individuals to have a solid way of life. Regardless of the way that we have consistently heard about the negative impact of sitting before the computer screen for quite a while, we can't completely understand this until we experience this effect.

The EyeDecide project permits clients to feel what, for instance, having a cataract implies. EyeDecide is a portable application that utilizes a cell phone worked in a camera and a presentation to show the effect of various conditions on the client's vision. This system displays vision standards; best acts of how to spare their vision, and causes them to locate a decent ophthalmologist. Utilizing pictures and explanation, EyeDecide depicts eye conditions, manifestations, and gives treatment tips. The application likewise offers distinctive medical specialists considering a client's area. Clients can sort created offers utilizing exceptional channels like language or specialty.

During the COVID-19 imposed lockdown, the need for maintaining physical fitness has increased. However, it is not considered safe to go outside. This is where AR & VR can be of immense use in maintaining overall fitnessFor instance, a significant share of people find is monotonous and uninteresting to use a treadmill. Playing music in the background is not appealing enough amidst the pandemic AR & VR offers the possibility to investigate new places, cities, or even outer space while running. These additional modifications are expected to make running interesting. The first omnidirectional treadmill, Infinadeck enables users to walk or go through virtual environments. The possibilities for immersive environments are endless. 

Infinadeck enables users to run toward any path (360 degrees) in contrast to commonplace treadmills, with the greatest speed of 6 mph. The use of such treadmills for physical treatment can be exceptionally useful. It helps in the efficient rehabilitation of patients from various traumas. In the aftermath of COVID-19, patients are advised to stay as isolated as possible. For post-surgery recovery, this treadmill can be used in isolation using good sanitation techniques.

For example, a framework utilizes a VR headset to show patients a video clarification of an ordinary surgical cycle, beginning with the patient's conveyance to the operating room, to associate them to the intensive care unit (ICU) before surgery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in mental health problems by causing an immense amount of stress among individuals. Throughout the last decade, health researchers are also applications of these technologies on the growing cases of mental health disorders. As indicated by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, 20% of individuals inside the U.S. have a mental disorder. Healthcare organizations have been trying to use virtual reality as a device to keep up a virtual reality exposure treatment (VRET). With the rising availability of reasonable VR hardware like head-mounted displays, immersive exposure becomes a usual practice for treating mental disorders. For instance, the Bravemind VR system is used for mental health treatment. The system includes a vibrotactile stage for stimulating sensations, a scent generator, and a controllable customizable VR condition associated with scenarios such as explosions.

The technology helps patients to gradually improve coping mechanisms for fears, depression, or stress. As patients are put in stressful situations in a controlled domain, the system empowers them to confront their fears and cope more efficiently. Several studies demonstrate the effectiveness of this system including a study published on the website of the National Center of Biotechnology. The study showed that a single VR treatment was equally powerful as applying both drug and VR therapies.


Currently, several challenges are present in the immediate adoption of AR & VR in healthcare. Organizations are not utilizing better-advanced aptitudes than executing AR technology. Also, the improvement of AR includes complex methodology, different stage advancements, and technology configuration to guarantee the smooth working of augmented reality in healthcare fragments. Furthermore, the execution of augmented reality and virtual reality can be expensive. These are the components that are limiting the market development in the estimated time frame. However, due to the increasing burden on healthcare providers and lack of manpower as exhibited by the COVID-19 pandemic complemented with the impacts of the same, technological enhancement remains the only way to meet the demand.

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