For the past several years, the companion technologies, which allow users to mirror reality, have been emerging as strong players in the medical field in Asia and beyond, given their potential to simulate surgery, improve diagnostic imaging, and enhance patient care and rehabilitation.
Now, companies that specialize in augmented and virtual reality are poised to respond to the needs of the current global healthcare crisis. Even before the pandemic emerged as a worldwide threat, the slice of the healthcare market represented by the two technologies was projected by several estimates to grow from $2 billion in 2018 to more than 11 billion in 2025.
Firms in China, Taiwan and South Korea have been working overtime to push out the technologies to help doctors train to treat patients with the virus and consumers manage their care from home. But in the early months of the crisis, they face delays, increased costs and revenue losses.
How Are Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies Improving Healthcare?
Augmented reality and virtual reality both work by changing what people see and hear. Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated sensory experiences on a user’s view of the real world, often by adding, or overlaying digital elements to a user’s view on a camera or a smartphone. Virtual reality completely takes over a user’s vision, immersing users in a simulated three-dimensional environment.
Taken together, the two technologies are being employed to create images for diagnosis, improve patient care and rehabilitation, and even simulate surgery. Pioneering mental health professionals have patients don virtual reality goggles to relive traumas from their past in a way that is manageable, customized and safe. Today, surgeons use several techniques, haptics, holograms and other immersive tools, to visualize the area on which they are to operate and to project three dimensional representations of the patient’s anatomy into the surgeon’s field of view. These technologies are likely to improve accuracy and outcomes for patients.
For healthcare professionals of all sorts, the two technologies can improve productivity and enhance teamwork. Virtual reality places participants in the same virtual space, making it easier than video conferencing to collaborate in real-time. Participants can import 3-D objects into a custom environment and work together using interactive whiteboards.
The use of the technology has met with success recently in several Japanese hospitals, where surgeons hone technique and plan details of procedures using 3-D virtual reality models developed by Tokyo-based Holoeyes, Inc. Medical Realities, Ltd., based in London, has developed a virtual reality system that allows medical students to practice administering clinical exams. Mindmotion, a subsidiary of Mindmaze, Inc., in Lausanne, Switzerland, has designed a virtual reality system being employed by physical therapists to turn rehabilitation routines such as motor skill exercises and mobility training into games. And California firm Osso VR makes simulations that guide doctors through virtual surgeries, and that measure their performance and progress.
How Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Growing the Use of Augmented and Virtual Reality?
From developing new life-saving techniques to training the doctors of the future, virtual reality has great potential in medicine. And in the current Covid-19 pandemic, it can be used to train medical professionals on new skills in safe virtual environments.
In the early months of the pandemic, companies manufacturing and distributing augmented and virtual reality devices in China, Taiwan and South Korea have been affected by temporary delays, increased costs and revenue losses. MAD Gaze, a Hong Kong-based consumer AR smart glasses provider, has announced delays in shipments, and changed its display panel supplier from a Chinese factory to Korean and Japanese factories due to production delays in Chinese factories. Nreal, a China-based augmented reality smart glasses provider, announced production and shipment delays as well. At the same time, bigger companies with higher demand and larger-scale supply chains face similar issues, such as Oculus, HTC, and Vive are struggling to meet VR headset demand.
But Asian governments and markets are beginning to rise to the challenge. Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) announced recently it will speed approvals of new medical devices based on virtual and augmented reality technologies. And companies in high tech medical complexes will be allowed to build larger facilities.
Chinese physicians are using virtual reality for mental healthcare, to immerse patients in seemingly real environments that expose them to challenging situations. And China also has more than 100 augmented and virtual reality firms focused on medical applications. Those firms include Cognitive Leap Solutions, Inc., Oxford Virtual Reality, Shanghai Invasion Digital Technology and Shanghai Qing Tech.
Such augmented and virtual reality technology is now increasingly in demand as healthcare firms, like businesses of all kinds, make continuity their priority, seek new ways to train medical professionals, and treat and diagnose patients from afar.