Interview: What augmented reality means for healthcare

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The FHI editorial team

Oct 27, 2016 - reading time 3 mins

By the FHI editorial team

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Augmented reality won’t solve everything. It won't ease how the disease burden falls unequally on different people, cure diseases, or fix the financial burden across society. What augmented reality can do is discussed by Kim Bellard in this interview. 

Futuristic smart glasses

How will augmented reality (AR) change healthcare for the patient?

Over the last decade, consumers have embraced technology in certain aspects of their health, first with online searches and more recently with wearables like smart watches and heart rate monitors.


If we’re honest though, this isn’t really enough. We still don’t exercise enough, eat healthily, or get adequate sleep and as such, obesity and lifestyle diseases like diabetes have become global epidemics.


In many cases, we know that we should take better care of ourselves, but we feel we don’t have enough time to, or perhaps it feels a bit abstract – something we read about but all-too-often isn’t part of our everyday lives.


Luckily, AR can overcome both these stumbling blocks by getting more useful information to us more quickly and more directly – we won’t have to look something up or even look at a screen, it’ll just be there, integrated into our lives.


Think Pokémon Go but for health; where the world around you becomes your doctor and your lifestyle guru, helping with big decisions like ‘Should I have the surgery the doctor is recommending?’ by providing real-time ‘translations’ of technical terms into layman’s terms, or with smaller ones like ‘Should I take the stairs or the elevator…?’ by showing the immediate benefits of option one.

And what about the healthcare professional? How can AR improve their lives too?

Of course, it is not only the patients who will be helped by the advent of augmented reality; healthcare professionals will too, specifically in the upgrading of electronic health records (EHRs).


While we have had EHRs for some time now, many physicians still dislike them and many patients complain about physicians spending more time looking at their computer screen than at them. AR, and VR, offer a solution – instead of looking at the screen for information about you, imagine if the physician was looking at you, the patient, the whole time.


They see a summary of key information  – such as diabetic, pacemaker, recent knee surgery -  overlaid on the corresponding portion of your body. Any significant changes in blood pressure, weight, and other vitals are highlighted and they can call up more information by making an oral request to the artificial intelligence  or by using a hand gesture over a particular body part.

Do you think implementing AR faces any challenges?

As I mentioned earlier, we must remember that for all its potential you can’t just add augmented reality to an existing process and assume it is automatically going to solve everything. If we want professionals and patients to really embrace AR, it needs to re-imagine the process.

This won’t be easy; healthcare is traditionally very insular, cautious, and slow to adopt from other industries, so AR needs to prove it isn’t a gimmick or fad and is something that can really help improve health.

When it does that though, I believe that within the next decade, using AR to monitor our healthcare will be as natural as using our smartphones to monitor it now.

Doctor and patient looking at digital tablet

Kim Bellard

Kim is endlessly curious about almost everything, especially related to technology and health care. Contributor to Tincture, MCOLBlog, and OpenHealth News. Read more from him on his blog or follow him on Twitter.

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