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Application of augmented reality to Healthcare

Augmented reality has always held the fascination of science fiction writers and found its implementation in many sci-fi novels, comics and movies, though quite a bit of that is reality today. Game consoles like the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft Xbox have hardware which provides an augmented reality dimension to virtual gaming. Mobile phones come equipped with various augmented reality apps such as Layar and Wikitude that can direct you to your favourite coffee shop or take you on a guided tour an unknown city. Now, with the advent of wearable computing devices, such as the Google Glasses, its usage will become as common as smart phones. Discussed below are some views on how healthcare industry can leverage augmented reality to improve the services.

Remote Patient Monitoring

A study was recently carried out at Johns Hopkins and The University of Rochester Medical Center with 20 Parkinson's disease patients.It was noted that the outcome of a video conference between physicians and patients, helped the physicians diagnose the patients' symptoms accurately. The study showed that results of the virtual diagnosis of the patients were comparable to in-person diagnosis. In the above scenario, the physicians looking for typical symptoms exhibited by a Parkinson's patient were not inconvenienced by the lack of multiple viewing angles. Considering a case where a physician needs multiple angles of viewing of the physical manifestation of a patient's symptoms, video conferencing can be inconvenient. Wearing a pair of augmented reality glasses, the video stream broadcasted to the physician will be a lot more detailed. This experience shall be equivalent of having the patient "sitting right in front" of them.

Let us take the example of a patient using a pair of Google glasses. She contacts a physician at a different location and transmits all that she sees to the doctor who can view this video on his touch screen tablet. At any point of time if the physician spots something of interest in his video feed, he can choose to capture that point as an image, magnify it and use it in ways limited only by his imagination. Going a step further, the image can be referenced by an image processing application which can help identify rashes, growths or any other visible symptom and correlate them with possible matches for diseases. The glasses when integrated with portable health monitoring devices, like heart rate monitors, blood pressure machines etc., can give a complete overview of the patient's health status to the consulting physician. This provides a rich user experience for the physician which would enable high quality delivery of healthcare services.

Care Management
Patients under care management are frequently visited by care providers who register the vitals of the patient and report back on their health status.  Currently, care providers register the vitals in paper forms, and then the data is manually fed into the system. Doing so involves a lot of overhead and there is always a risk of misplacing the forms too. This issue can be addressed by moving the system to a mobility platform. The data collected during these interactions can be synchronized with secure cloud storage or could be relayed back in real-time.

Let us examine how augmented reality glasses can improve this entire process. A pair of augmented reality glasses can be synchronized with the care provider's calendar and will prompt them on their appointments. They can extend maps feature's and provide "turn-by-turn" directions on how to reach the patients house. They can record the entire interaction process between the patient and the care provider, and since they are wearable devices, they will not obstruct the care provider either. Furthermore, in-case the care provider feels an immediate need to get a consultation from a physician, she can leverage the connectivity features of such devices. With more players bound to enter the market in manufacturing augmented reality glasses, the cost of such devices would be comparable to tablet computers.

Wellness and Fitness Management
In earlier blogs, I have stressed on the importance of mobility and social media integration to wellness management. The basis of augmented reality lies on leveraging the best of mobile and social media platforms. Developing fitness management applications for augmented realty glasses will result in a paradigm shift in how users interact with these applications. You could be projected with live data like heart rate, and distance run over your glasses allowing you to get interactive with the whole process.
Citing an example from my daily activities, I am someone who likes to jog at a particular pace to control my heart rate for a specific type of workout regime, like cardio, fat-burn, etc. Having the vitals data projected within my field of vision helps me focus on the street instead of looking into my band/watch which can be risky when I am on the road.

The above mentioned examples are only a few ways in which augmented reality devices can help elevate the level of healthcare services provided. The healthcare industry is only now beginning to reap the benefits of smartphones. Augmented reality is the next big thing in the mobility sphere and all healthcare stakeholders would have an advantage in incorporating it in their technology roadmap.

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