Using XR to Raise Disease Awareness
Immersive technology advancement continues to be amongst the drivers of innovation in the healthcare industry, in many ways thanks to its capabilities to not only visualize but submerge users into a close to real life experiences. With healthcare divisions starting from anesthesiology, surgery, gynecology, diagnostic radiology and even psychology turning to Extended Reality (XR) in order to enhance medical practices, procedures, training and education.
As every aspect of our everyday reality has already been touched by the digital transformation, XR can serve as an efficient tool to reshape entire healthcare infrastructures, bringing full technological ecosystems to both institutions, medical specialists and patients, setting the stage for the next generation of medical care worldwide.
As more high-fidelity XR devices are coming to the market, immersive experiences continue to expand their capabilities through the extension of the field of view (FOV), higher device refresh rates, unprecedent display definitions as well as more advanced body, face, hand and eye-tracking. All these features enable developers to go beyond simple visualization, incorporating digital twin technology to create environments with real-life levels of realism. The latest hardware developments amongst which are Varjo XR-3, Pico Neo 3 Pro Eye, HTC Vive Focus 3 and Pimax’s 12K QLED VR will continue opening new opportunities for healthcare XR developers around the world.
These capabilities, without doubt, will continue advancing further, as XR uncovers a vast scope of new opportunities that digitalization is capable of bringing to practitioners, from being able to practice procedures safely and remotely without putting real patients at risk to serving as more cost efficient and sustainable solutions. In recent years immersive technologies have stepped far beyond practice and demonstration use cases. Implementation of XR today can serve as a powerful tool in healthcare to grant access, increase understanding and help raise disease awareness for millions worldwide. With XR experiences serving as a much needed eye opener, reshaping one's understanding and helping develop empathy.
With many conditions not visible to the naked eye, Extended Reality can help users understand and learn what it is to live with some of the symptoms and experience another person's everyday struggles. The immersiveness of the XR allows one to build empathy by being in the shoes of a person with a particular medical condition. The technology can help raise awareness amongst the general public, bringing attention to diseases that are sometimes overlooked, neglected and as a result underfunded.
Today, we would like to look at some conditions and use cases, where utilizing XR can make a major difference, spreading knowledge, providing better understanding, accelerating disease awareness, helping develop empathy and raise funds.
Macular disease can be named amongst conditions that require both additional awareness and immediate attention. With people of all ages living with the condition, the number of affected by macular disease is expected to grow from 196 million in 2020 to over 288 million globally by 2040. These conditions can take a number of forms, with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) being one of the most common forms and the biggest cause of sight loss.
Macular disease symptoms come in various forms from loss of sharpness, blurriness, visual distortions to difficulty with adaptation to light levels and loss of central vision. Some symptoms may seem very minor at first, however they are the important signs that should not be overlooked. Even though no cure currently exists for AMD, early intervention and treatment may slow down the disease and diminish the severity of vision loss.
Immersive XR experiences in this case can be used for both education of specialists, potential patients and even people not closely related to the issue. XR enables to come closer to understanding the condition, helping demonstrate the impact of macular disease in real-time as well as resonate with the users. While simply recreating symptoms of a certain medical condition can give users an idea of how the condition looks from first person perspective, utilizing XR device’s eye-tracking capabilities can help it have a strong and lasting impact on the users who have submerged into the XR environment.
For this particular use case several symptoms of macular disease were recreated in XR using both visual materials as well as medical specialists' insights and feedback, to ensure accurate condition representation. Created XR experience allowed users to interact with real life objects while experiencing various macular disease symptoms such as visual distortions, increased blurriness of printed words, a well-defined blind spot in the field of vision and many more.
To complete the project goal and create an XR experience that delivers unprecedented immersion into the everyday struggles of a person with a macular disease condition, we selected a device with one of the highest visual fidelity and advanced capabilities, the Varjo XR-3. The inbuilt eye-tracking and see-through capabilities allowed to develop an experience that overlayed the real-world environment and objects with digitally recreated condition, making it impossible to avert from the symptoms, which would follow the user’s gaze and remain in front of their eyes, wherever they would look, with utmost precision. This feature along with the advanced visual fidelity made a tremendous impact on the XR experience users, leaving them with a lasting impression and as a result a better understanding of the condition as well as its impact on lives.
The number of diagnosed Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) cases grew substantially in the past two decades, with research showing a growing trend worldwide. Every year more and more children are being diagnosed with the condition and it is one of the most common conditions that can continue through adolescence into adulthood. The global research estimates roughly 129 million children to have the condition and on average about 3,4% to carry it over into adulthood.
ADHD symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsivity, issues with paying attention and staying focused, trouble with staying focused that interfere and may lead to falling behind in development or functioning. People with the condition perceive the world more intensely, as if the volume of reality has been amplified significantly for all five senses, overwhelming with the intensity of the surroundings. Even though no cure exists, early diagnostics and treatment may lessen the symptoms as well as improve the child's development.
When it comes to diagnosing the condition there could be a difficulty as the symptoms can be mistakenly taken for other conditions and ought to be long lasting in order to be able to identify ADHD with precision. In addition, a significant lack of understanding and knowledge around ADHD amongst the general public can cause people to ignore the first signs and the gradual development of the condition.
Like with other conditions that cannot be easily comprehended, educating and raising awareness can play an essential role in the way kids and adults with ADHD are perceived. At the same time social workers, teachers and care takers can use it to obtain the necessary social knowledge that will help them improve the interaction with kids experiencing ADHD symptoms.
When it comes to ADHD it is especially important for people to develop understanding and empathy much needed to help children learn how to manage the symptoms and overcome everyday challenges. XR can play a significant role in achieving that.
XR technology allows to recreate and submerge users into a one-to-one realistic scenario depicting an everyday situation where the sensory simulation of the surroundings is significantly amplified, compared to the perception of a person not affected by the ADHD. Placing users into the shoes of someone with the actual symptoms can serve as the much-needed bridge to building an understanding. Once submerged, the user can have a personal feel of the everyday challenges, making them resonate thus leaving a more significant impact than written or video communication can deliver.
Like with the previous case study, we have created a VR simulation that enables users to experience how a child with ADHD perceives the world from the first party perspective. The immersive solution allowed to capture and simulate experiences, emotions and reactions of a third-grade male student who is diagnosed with ADHD.
The experience that was built has a distinct beginning and ending, but the classroom experience (i.e. the distractions) would occur at the user’s will. When the user would look around the room, their gaze would trigger the distractions. The experience was developed to raise public awareness through empathy and allowed users to better understand children that have the ADHD condition as well learn how to help such patients. Immersive technology allowed one to deep dive and first-hand experience a fraction of another person's life challenges.
We are bound to see more use cases communicated, published and researched in the near future. Today, XR has stopped much closer to becoming the go to tool that can help demonstrate and get the message across through first-hand experience. Without doubt it allows to shape a stronger understanding, increase recognition and build empathy within users. Macular diseases and ADHD are amongst the many conditions that can benefit from utilizing the power of XR, increasing awareness and bringing the much-needed attention. XR has a great potential to enhance many directions starting with awareness and including research, intervention and diagnostics.