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XR in Healthcare: Simple Evolution or Amazing Revolution?
By Grégory Maubon, Digital Coordinator CIO/CDO, HCS Pharma
From past 10 years, we've been talking more and more about XR (mainly VR and AR) and it’s clear now that these technologies are revolutionizing in many fields, like retail, tourism or industries. Of course, we can also find XR usage in healthcare, and, for me, it is about to deeply change relations between patients, healthcare professionals and treatments.
Today XR uses
Today, principal uses of XR are focused on medical staffs. They are many tools for surgeons who have to perform very precise gestures. They can be trained before operations or be helped during it. For example Microsoft and Philips had shown recently the “operating room of the future” where Microsoft Holo lens allows people to easily see 2D and 3D pictures from various instruments. Companies like Gene tech use VR to train eye surgeons, to implant small device in eye. XR are perfect technologies to apply the precept “never on a real patient for the first time”! And it’s not a hype trend, as the FDA approved last October, the first AR system for using in pre-operative surgical planning. But they can be also used beyond technical gestures, to help nurses to face restless or drunk people, like with the Medic ActiV training platform of Sim for Health. It’s a good way to “feel” the real stress of the emergency service. With some applications like “The SUSAN Project” from Sage Publishing, it is even possible to “be” the patient to better understand his or her feeling, and of course it's also a method to develop empathy (the real value of healthcare people in the new “AI for diagnostic” time).
For patients, XR is even more a revolution because we can use it today for things that were impossible just a few years ago! Reduction of drugs prescription in pain treatment is the most spectacular result for me. There are plenty of examples especially for children like at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles), at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital (Stanford) or with the Red Cross MINIDOCS application in Lyon (France).
There are many more uses of XR in healthcare domain, from communication to devices maintenance or for laboratory design like for my own company HCS Pharma. Even research can be improved by XR
Of course, it’s also useful for adults in many different situations like childbirth or phantom limb pain and, again, it’s not hype because several studies proved the efficiency of XR. The second domain where XR get the best results is related to “fear and phobias”. The immersion allows people to face their fears in a controlled way, and to decrease the anxiousness slowly. Also, many tools are available now, like the “Digi Phobie” project from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT which helps to fight the fear of spiders or the Brave mind VR Exposure Therapy software (University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies) which is used to treat post traumatic stress disorder of soldiers. To summarize, every time a fear exist, XR helps to overtake it by a controlled immersion. This is a real revolution!
There are many more uses of XR in healthcare domain, from communication to devices maintenance or for laboratory design like for my own company HCS Pharma. Even research can be improved by XR. This example from Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research is a perfect illustration.
And now, everything is perfect under the Sun?
With many useful uses, real benefits for patients and professional, amazing exponential development (a CAGR from +10% to +50% is described in market research for the period 2019-2026!) it sounds like paradise, but we need to keep calm as there are some constraints to deal with.
Firstly, people need to be educated to use XR, especially for healthcare professionals. Health and surgery are scientific domains where validated processes are important or even mandatory. As we have seen, XR needs much more scientific studies to prove positive effects. These studies will be used to change process and we will see more and more of such technologies used in health formation. Of course, to create XR contents for health, we need skilled people, but that's another story.
Secondly, when we talk about health and personal health data, we have to talk about security and privacy (well, not only in health). It was a major discussion subject in the last health session of Laval Virtual. Technically, most of health XR applications (for training or treatment) could be developed on major VR and AR tools, like VR chat, Amazon Sumerian, Altspace VR or Facebook platform. It would be faster! But today, who could trust them to keep personal data safe and secured? So, sometime we feel like everything needs to be reinvented again and again and it’s then impossible to lower the cost and spread utilizations as largely as possible. The next (and mandatory) revolution in XR will be the data security revolution. We don’t know how it will be done but it will probably come from open "AR clouds" developments. These tools will allow us to "talk" the same XR language (aka use standard description of experiences) but, in the same time, we will keep our data in protected areas. If you want to know more about it, you should look at the Open AR cloud Project. I'm certain that this is the XR future revolution.