Reshaping the future of healthcare with AR, VR, and MR | The Financial Express

Reshaping the future of healthcare with AR, VR, and MR

According to TechSci Research, the Indian Augmented Reality market alone is expected to grow at a rate of 38.29% by 2027.

Being home to the world’s largest working population, India’s position as a global startup hub is fast rising.
Being home to the world’s largest working population, India’s position as a global startup hub is fast rising.

By Harsha Vardhan

Augmented reality (AR), is the technology that superimposes virtual objects in the real world, virtual reality (VR) that creates a completely simulated environment, and mixed reality (MR), a blanket term used to describe everything in between augmented reality and augmented virtuality, together termed extended reality (XR), have opened a world of possibilities in health care today.

Offering the opportunity for improved access, superior outcomes, and experiences to even the remote parts of
the world, these hold the massive potential to strengthen our healthcare ecosystem. A London-based data analytics and consulting firm, GlobalData, estimated that AR and VR markets will grow by about 25%. India’s contribution to this was estimated to be around $550 million in 2020 and is expected to grow to $6.5 billion by 2023. With over 2000 startups working on AR and VR technologies in the country today, envisioning a transformed healthcare landscape in the coming years would not be farfetched.
The impact of AR and VR in healthcare AR and VR offer diverse applications in healthcare services, allowing stakeholders to enhance the overall experience for patients are providers alike.
● Virtual and augmented reality technologies enhance remote consultation and treatment. People with limited access to specialty care can notably reap their benefits by connecting with global experts for advanced care.
● AR is already assisting surgical procedures by holographic overlaying of pictures and data in real-time, consequently improving surgeons’ efficiency and by extension, clinical outcomes. Pixee Medical, a France-based medical company, guided by the Vuzix M400 AR smart glasses, the world’s first FDA-approved AR-guided knee surgery has marked a milestone in advanced surgery.
● VR exposure therapy (VRET) and AR exposure therapy (ARET) are increasingly being used for treating anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, addiction, phobias, psychosis, pain management, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. These are digitally assisted psychotherapies and behavioral treatments that address a patient’s response to extreme
experiences. It has benefitted burn victims and war veterans suffering from PTSD, in addition to those struggling with acrophobia and arachnophobia.
● AR and VR systems not only offer valid solutions in visualizations and improvement of efficacy and recovery time of physical therapy; they also offer more effective solutions for preventive health care with the help of AR’s predictive capabilities.
● AR and VR have taken on a huge role in training and education. VR health care training, for instance, is an effective way of studying human anatomy, displaying each layer and mechanics of the human body closely.
● VR environments also offer a setting for patients to meditate or engage in recreational activities that can help them unwind. Patients dealing with uncomfortable symptoms of chronic diseases can also find a safe space to overcome mental barriers with the help of the technology.

Indian startup ecosystem accelerating AR, VR applications

Being home to the world’s largest working population, India’s position as a global startup hub is fast rising. The government is also taking concrete steps to build a robust ecosystem and usher the country into the digital age. This system especially needs to be credited for the numerous innovations and applications being developed in many parts of the country to leverage AR & VR technologies in health care. Indian startups like Jaipur-based Cognihab are making strides in this field by implementing VR for critical procedure simulations and assisting patients with autism, pain relief, anxiety, and more.
According to TechSci Research, the Indian Augmented Reality market alone is expected to grow at a rate of 38.29% by 2027. Considering the accomplishments of just a little over a hundred startups working in the AR space today; the fast-growing numbers of AR, VR, and XR tech companies together are certainly poised to transform the health landscape of India in the coming future. Barriers to large-scale adoption of AR and VR in healthcare. Although, the integration of AR and VR has significantly progressed, there are certain challenges that are hindering its large-scale adoption in health care, especially in a country like India.


● Cost
Global healthcare spending is estimated to increase rapidly in the coming years, and most of it will be utilized for integrating advanced technologies. Implementing AR and VR systems is expensive as developing these programs requires top-quality hardware, computers, and graphics cards. There must also be an accurate tracking system, specialized accessories, and high-resolution displays. The process of implementation has been slow mainly due to the high cost incurred in designing and implementing of these technologies.


● Limited awareness
Most users still associate AR and VR with gaming and entertainment, making them apprehensive about these new-age treatment methods. An unfamiliarity with such technologies would also make patients reluctant, especially in rural parts of India.


● Technical limitations
There may be a variety of AR and VR systems to choose from, but each comes with its limitations. While some large systems may have limited clinical settings, others may not offer fully satisfying, high-resolution, immersive experiences on portable devices such as mobile phones. Reduced face-to-face communication and educational limitations are also hindering AR and VR implementation in health care.


● Data Security
With extensive information going digital with these technologies, the risk associated with data breaches also surges. Encrypting this data, ensuring authentic content generation, and preventing social engineering from distorting users’ perceptions – are imminent challenges that need to be addressed before the technology’s mass adoption by the healthcare industry. The next steps towards the utilization of extended reality in health The future of this advanced technology in health care are promising, but for a secure and seamless experience it is imperative to ensure patient safety and data security. Infrastructural advancements like the launch of 5G in India, will support rapid adoption by stakeholders, and innovation by various tech startups mushrooming in the country.

The elimination of bandwidth challenges will enhance overall experiences and result in the evolution of technology for safe usage in health care. Subsequent progress in IoT connectivity processing massive amounts of data through AI and machine learning will also make mixed reality applications more reliable for an improved care
experience.
According to Statista, only 26 million VR and AR headsets were owned by private consumers in 2021, and by 2025 this number is expected to increase almost eight-fold. With these gadgets making their way into our personal spaces, their successful utilisation in our care is inevitable. Therefore, it’s safe to say that even with the apparent limitations, the Indian healthcare industry is already accelerating the integration of AR and VR and will only advance in finding the best solutions for both patients and specialists, making the health system work better for everyone.

The author is the vice president of Software Engineering, Optum Global Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd.

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First published on: 26-01-2023 at 09:30 IST