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28 Dec 2021

How Immersive Technology Сould Enhance Healthcare of The Post-Pandemic Reality

Healthcare has proven to be a topic of paramount importance for billions worldwide. In the light of the pandemic, it has become apparent how essential it is to ensure that all resources are able to operate at full capacity, bearing the load of both functional and human resources system overload. The healthcare sector has started searching for prompt solutions to help increase efficiency and optimize the overall system. 

The global pandemic has forced healthcare to accelerate the adaptation and come up with new ways of how to manage processes in our new everyday realities. Without a doubt, these realities are pushing us to come up with solutions that can be accessible, remote and safe at the same time. Even though innovation and digitalization go hand in hand with healthcare, this industry, like no other, requires a rapid technological infusion to continue moving forward. 

Today, a vast majority of healthcare institutions are rapidly opting in for immersive technologies to enhance performance or enable learning processes. With more and more advancements in screening, diagnostics and treatment solutions, healthcare professionals are facing many challenges when trying to onboard the breakthroughs. 

Now, more than ever, technology is playing an important role in keeping the industry moving — from providing the opportunity to remotely train healthcare professionals to assisting in real-time surgeries. However, as immersive technologies are starting to take their well-deserved place, quite a few questions arise when professionals are seeking the technology that will fulfill their needs.

With so many tech notions being born every day, we often confuse or interchange concepts, which sometimes makes the technology selection more complicated than it needs to be. Among immersive technologies, "extended reality" is usually used as an umbrella term that unites augmented, virtual and mixed realities (AR, VR and MR). Each of these technologies open healthcare to a variety of possibilities when it comes to accessibility, remoteness and safety. Each provides unique capabilities to enhance performance and learning processes, giving a new sense to reality, be it virtual or real.

Augmented reality, which enhances the real world with digital twins and visual overlays, is an ideal tool for learning and remote collaboration. Virtual reality, on the other hand, allows a user to submerge into a virtual dimension, where they can interact remotely with the created world and other users. Finally, there's mixed reality, which combines the capabilities of AR to overlay real objects with the VR-created digital world.

Today, immersive technologies have gone beyond experiences that just mimic an interaction or process. They can bring much-needed enhancement as well as breathe new life into the healthcare learning processes through their capability to be remote, making them yet again accessible and safe. 

AR is continuing to gain ground in the healthcare industry, as an excellent tool that provides guided digital assistance and supports education. The major advantage of this technology is, without doubt, its mobile accessibility, which helps bring dimension and 3D perspective into medical processes.

But AR doesn't simply stop there. With the availability of AR and MR headsets like Microsoft Holens 2, Magic Leap, VARJO XR3 and Vuzix Blade, surgeons can use augmented reality inside an operation room (OR). AR's capability to enhance surroundings with digital overlays can be greatly beneficial even during procedures. 

Then there is virtual reality. This immersive tool helps healthcare professionals advance in education and training, making it possible to interact remotely and simultaneously from any point on the planet. A major advancement of software engines like Unreal and Unity has allowed developers to build hyper-realistic experiences.

It has become possible to recreate entire ORs with full sound, functioning and responsive equipment, realistic virtual patients, hand tracking and natural procedure interactions. The immersive solutions allow healthcare workers to collect performance data, analyze it, evaluate it and even provide feedback. This has been made possible with the advancement of VR headsets, such as the Oculus Quest 2, HTC Vive, Varjo XR-3 and Pico Neo 2 Eye, to name a few. VR makes it possible to submerge and feel natural within virtual experiences in a matter of minutes. 

Lastly, we have mixed reality, which combines parts of both AR and VR technologies. From the immersive technology perspective, it is the go-to tool for healthcare professionals when there is a need to both enhance real objects with digital capabilities as well as interact with them during the procedure or training. MR devices like the Hololens 2, Magic Leap and Varjo XR-3 submerge users into a combination of real and digital environments, bringing maximum realism to both training and operation room experiences. These high-fidelity devices are equipped with eye-tracking, gaze and gesture control, as well as speech-to-action interaction. The extended field of vision brings technology-assisted procedures and training experiences to a new level. 

Additionally, mixed reality platforms, like Microsoft Mesh, now allow healthcare professionals to perform procedures while simultaneously interacting with their remote colleagues and data display holograms for additional assistance in real time.

Even though we are at the threshold of a new beginning that requires healthcare to become more accessible, remote and safe, we have all the tools to make it happen in the post-pandemic reality. The possibilities are truly unlimited, which makes potential performance and learning enhancements just a matter of selecting the right immersive technology.  

Author: Alex Dzyuba, Lucid Reality Labs Founder & CEO | Original article published on Forbes.

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