Application of AR/VR in healthcare in the UK

Published on 14/07/2022 by Sukanya Awasthi

Healthcare companies are possibly using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology with an aim to transform the healthcare sector digitally. Read further to learn more about the application of AR/VR in healthcare and how they can offer immersive real-life simulations for a better experience.

The use of ar/vr in healthcare can potentially help healthcare professionals to better engage with patients

The use of augmented reality and virtual reality in healthcare is not new to the UK. In fact, the world’s first virtual reality operation to remove cancerous tissue using a VR camera took place at the Royal London Hospital back in 2016 and was broadcasted via app and website. Even in recent times, the National Health Service (NHS) may possibly be starting to employ virtual reality, augmented reality, and other related technology in the healthcare sector. In this article, we will look at these immersive technology and their various uses and applications.

What are AR, VR, and MR technology?

Before diving into the use of VR, AR, and MR technology in medicine and healthcare, let us first understand these concepts.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality tools usually require a head-mounted display and mobile controllers to create a three-dimensional —or 3D— computer-generated environment that reacts to the user’s motions and activities like hand and body gestures. This means that users can engage with the 3D world instead of just seeing a screen in front of them.

Augmented reality

The use of information in the form of audio, video, text, images etc., by superimposing it with real-world objects to provide a ‘real world’ experience is known as augmented reality technology. This creates an interactive 3D user experience for the user and also lets them interact with the augmented reality interface via smart eyeglasses, tablets, or smartphone cameras.

Mixed reality

There is another type of immersive technology called mixed reality or MR, which is a synthesis of the digital and physical realms to create new virtual settings where physical and digital items can co-exist and communicate in real-time. 

Moreover, there is also a newer variant of this technology called extended reality (XR), which is a combination of AR, VR, and MR.

AR and VR in healthcare in the UK

AR and VR technology may be in the early stages in the UK but the global immersive technology market is expanding, according to an article by ABI Research. It states that ‘the AR healthcare market is expected to generate approximately US$10 billion in revenues with the VR Healthcare market reaching US$1.2 billion in 2024’.

A report by XR Health UK developed in partnership with the NHSX presents some interesting findings:

  1. ‘Clinicians and researchers in the UK are developing not just products but entire treatment packages that tap into the many novel capabilities of XR.’
  2. ‘Strategic support to bring together the creative, technical and story-based skillsets of the creative, games and XR sector with clinicians and researchers could fast track new R&D and solutions to address the mental health and wellbeing needs of the UK population.

Not just this, medical institutions are also getting financial aid to reform and refine the use of immersive technology in surgeries and other medical usages. According to an article by Brighton and Sussex medical school, ‘a professor at the Queen Victoria Hospital, has won a £1m grant from Health Education England (HEE) to develop virtual reality and augmented reality surgical training resources.’

Applications of AR and VR in the healthcare sector

One of the biggest benefits of using AR and VR tools in the healthcare sector is the immersive nature of these technology, which can be experienced through VR headsets and goggles, tablets, smartphones, and other audio devices. These devices can give users a realistic simulation of a virtual environment and can be used by healthcare professionals in a multitude of ways. Some of the applications of AR and VR technology in medicine and the health sector are discussed below.

Utilising VR-powered surgery

VR-technology powered assisted surgeries may provide a new way for doctors to operate on their patients. According to an article by the British Heart Foundation, the ‘virtual reality (VR) technology we’re funding could improve outcomes for the thousands of patients who undergo a surgical or keyhole procedure for congenital heart disease every year.’ The article also states that ‘the researchers hope that using VR to plan and practice procedures will shorten operating times and reduce the need for multiple surgeries, leading to better outcomes and experiences for patients and their families.’

Expanding virtual training

Virtual reality training may have the potential to reproduce and duplicate real-world settings in a virtual environment and allow healthcare professionals to learn techniques without being physically present. An article by Forbes states that VR training tools can ensure ‘that healthcare professionals can be trained remotely, immersively, and more thoroughly than traditional methods for both front-line medicine and in specialist procedures.’ The article also states that ‘VR training is hugely useful in allowing medical professionals to maintain their skills and knowledge base without having to be physically present in a hospital.’

Development of the healthcare toolkit

Immersive technology may also possibly help healthcare professionals develop materials —in the form of 3D videos paired with audio— to help trainees learn about practical medical concepts. According to a report by the NHS, virtual reality 360-degree films can help healthcare professionals to prepare media materials. These can help in various ways like creating recorded simulations or a patient journey scenario.

Improving mental wellness

Technology like AR and VR-powered tools may have the ability to improve the state of mental health and well-being of patients. According to an article by the Health Tech Newspaper, a variety of diverse immersive technology  —like AR and VR— have contributed by encouraging physical activity and promoting creativity in an attempt to lower anxiety by fostering calming surroundings for mindfulness and meditation.

The future of AR and VR tools in healthcare

Immersive technology in healthcare will likely see more advancement, refinement, and adoption in the future. The UK Government is also actively investing in and supporting healthcare companies by leveraging these techniques for an improved and streamlined experience. The fact that medical professionals can learn in a life-like simulation that is not geographically constrained may also fundamentally alter how we deliver medical and professional education.

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This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

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About the author

Content Analyst for the UK market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends, and software suggestions to SMBs. Plant lady, café hopper, and dog mom.

Content Analyst for the UK market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends, and software suggestions to SMBs. Plant lady, café hopper, and dog mom.