A recent report on global augmented and virtual reality in healthcare showed the market is projected to reach around $19.6 billion by 2030 from 2.3 billion in 2021. With this massive growth, there are high expectations for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. There’s potential for these innovations to help increase patient engagement, reduce organizational workloads, act as a tool for medical education and provide alternate treatment options for patients.
In the past month alone we’ve seen AR/VR make progress in each of these areas:
Reduce Organizational Workloads: The NHS announced a pilot that will use Google smart goggles to help community nurses save time on admin related tasks when engaging with patients. The smart headset will be able to transcribe appointments directly to electronic records, share live footage for a second opinion, and help nurses plan travel to their next appointment. Globally we’re seeing massive nursing shortages. This technology introduces an opportunity to relieve some administrative burden on nurses and increase the amount of time they are able to spend with patients.
Provide Alternate Treatment Options: A recent study looked at the use of a “novel, automated, digital therapeutics, virtual reality, psychological intervention for pain” in adults with chronic low back pain, disability, moderate-to-severe pain, and high fear of movement and reinjury. Results showed participants in the intervention group reported a greater reduction in fear of movement and better global impression of change.
Increase Patient Engagement: Building on their mobile first strategy and the use of patient distraction therapy with VR, the UCHealth mobile app will offer an AR experience that makes dogs virtually come alive in patient waiting rooms. This is a first step in UCHealth’s plans to use mobile devices to drive patient engagement. In the last 90 days alone the app has had more than 500,000 users and includes a patient portal, indoor facility navigation, wellness features, and a virtual assistant tool.
Medical Education: FundamentalVR offers a platform called Fundamental Surgery, which combines VR and haptics to recreate the sights, sounds and sensations that surgeons experience during a medical procedure.The company recently closed a $20 M series B funding round led by EQT Life Sciences.
But with a compound annual growth rate of 26.88% from 2022 to 2030, where will we see this AR / VR growth?
We’re likely to see a bulk of this growth in North America and Asia Pacific regions. North America has previously held about 40% of the market share and is expected to continue to grow in the coming years from R&D investments and government initiatives that will increase adoption. In Asia Pacific regions AR / VR growth is expected to help meet the healthcare needs of rapidly growing populations.
Which companies are benefiting from this momentum?
So far in 2022, Osso VR and XRHealth have both secured substantial investments:
Osso VR, a VR surgical training and assessment platform, secured $66 M in a series C funding round earlier this year. The funds will be used to help scale their platform and hire new talent in order to increase access to their on-demand training modules.
XRHealth, a VR technology for therapeutic treatment, secured $10 M to expand their treatment in the Metaverse. Its solution is FDA and CE registered and integrates immersive AR / VR technology, licensed clinicians, and advanced data analytics on one platform.
AR/VR shows great promise for the healthcare industry:
AR / VR have great potential to help combat shortages in healthcare staff, provide alternate treatments to patients, and help train healthcare providers.
According to the World Health Organization, by 2030 the world will need more than 40 million new healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, frontline healthcare workers etc. This equates to approximately doubling the current medical workforce. Using VR to supplement existing training models is touted as one answer to maintaining and growing a sufficient medical workforce.
A 2018 review that looked at applications of VR in medical training showed that 87% of studies in people trained through VR showed higher accuracy in medical practice. Growing traction within the VR-HCP education space has led to development of a virtual hospital by Cardiff University. The aim of the initiative is to create a virtual clinical placement for student healthcare practitioners, facilitating them in their application of textbook knowledge to real-life patients and scenarios. Such a project is touted to have benefits in providing immersive 360 degree, 3D learning environments, but also has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of medical education and can enable training to continue throughout situations such as COVID-19 lockdowns.
Patient adherence to VR solutions has also shown to be higher than conventional therapies.
A study shows that adherence to traditional physical therapy treatments may be as low as 30% due to forgetfulness, tight work schedules, and transportation. However, XRHealth reports that their patient adherence to treatment is 91.2% - three times higher than patient adherence to conventional practices.
Beyond treatment, adherence, and education, there are numerous other aspects of healthcare that are leveraging extended realities including pharmacy benefit management, patient care management, surgical and diagnostic imaging, fitness management, and more. However, there are still adoption challenges to consider in terms of the affordability of AR / VR platforms and concerns about maintaining patient privacy. As we see the growth of healthcare in the Metaverse, there will be a brand new dimension of regulation needed to keep these technologies safe for medical use. Though with such a high growth rate, extended realities are likely to become a disruptive force in the healthcare industry.