The use of XR for remote collaboration has grown during the pandemic, including at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in the UK, which has used the HoloLens 2 headset to help lower the number of caregivers entering Covid-19 wards. A single doctor wearing an XR device enters the ward, while other members of the healthcare team watch the video stream securely from another area, providing advice and input where needed.
The benefits from this scenario clearly extend beyond the pandemic, enabling much greater collaboration between clinicians and specialists around the globe, and potentially helping to democratize expertise throughout the healthcare sector. As one doctor explained during a panel discussion, not every hospital has a specialist for everything, so the ability to call on experts to help determine the best treatment or to walk a clinician through an unfamiliar process in real time could be transformative.
Ambitions for the Future of Healthcare
The surgery demonstrations focussed on the applications of the technology that are available today, but the panels discussions also explored longer-term opportunities for the sector. A common area of interest among healthcare experts was the overlaying of scan images on patients to help precisely guide operating strategies, for example in complex organ surgery, where it’s critical to pinpoint the exact place of the first incision. However, such solutions require specialized applications; they won’t be available “out of the box” like the Microsoft Teams-based Remote Assist application in use today.
Another aspiration of panel participants sees artificial intelligence analysing videos of procedures captured with an XR device, identifying best practices that could enable XR apps to guide surgeons through procedures.
Although we’re a long way from these types of solution being readily available, there’s clearly a growing appetite for taking advantage of XR in the healthcare sector. It’s also interesting that XR is seen as a relatively low-priced solution for existing uses; although each device costs several thousand dollars, this is considered affordable compared with specialist healthcare technology such as sophisticated robotics or even display screens. XR devices also provide much more flexibility in how and where they’re used, helping to maximize their value.
The key to this vision is building an ecosystem of software developers focussed on creating solutions to meet these needs. Of course, given the regulated nature of the healthcare industry, compliance and security factors are essential to the success of such solutions. Nonetheless, this is undoubtedly an important area of growth for the XR market, and we expect to see a swathe of new applications and uses emerging over the coming months.
Written by: Angela Ashenden
Posted on 22/02/2021