Covid and Big Tech are pushing Augmented Reality into modern healthcare

There is an Augmented Reality revolution happening in healthcare. You can see it at places like Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England, where a pediatric heart surgeon recently used a pair of Microsoft HoloLens 2 smart glasses to transmit the view of the patient’s heart live to distant colleagues, as well as reviewing the patient’s echocardiogram at the same time.

The HoloLens 2 device running Microsoft’s remote assist software Dynamics 365 allowed the same surgeon to perform his rounds alone, minimizing the risk of both hospital-borne bacterial infections and of COVID-19 among fragile patients, while other specialists “joined” his rounds using Microsoft’s Teams app.

GlobalData forecasts that the global Augmented Reality market will be worth $76 billion by 2030, up from $4 billion in 2018.

But Microsoft isn’t the only AR game in town. Surgeons are benefiting from the augmented reality “X-ray vision” granted by McKesson Ventures portfolio company Augmedix, with an AR navigation technology that allows them to see a patient’s anatomy while performing minimally invasive surgery.

Augmedix also uses mixed reality to allow remote scribes into exam rooms (with patients’ permission) so the provider can focus on the patient rather than on taking notes in the electronic health record system. Remote scribes also reduce the risk of COVID-19 being spread in providers’ offices. Augmedix’ solution has reduced physician documentation time—reducing physician burnout—and enhanced the doctor-patient relationship because the doctor can really listen to what the patient is saying.

Other AR and mixed reality solution providers include startups such as Medivis and Proprio, which are selling mixed-reality solutions in the surgical space. EchoPixel’s True 3D software can help healthcare professionals visualize and interact with 3D images of human tissue and organs in open space as if they were real objects. Novarad’s Open Sight solution renders 2D, 3D, and 4D images of patients interactively, while overlaying them directly on to the patient’s body, which allow for more accurate surgical planning.

Big Tech is getting in on the game, too, as can be seen by Microsoft’s partnership with Alder Hey Hospital. Microsoft also recently purchased Nuance, a company that is similar to Augmedix in that it offers AI tools that transcribe doctors’ notes and visits during a working day. But while Nuance’s solution is purely AI-based, the Augmedix solution provides a human in the loop to ensure the most accurate possible documentation.

“It’s difficult to say the extent of investment or impact in augmented healthcare as this is still a largely untapped market,” said GlobalData Analyst Aliyah Farouk. “You can look at areas where AR is making a big difference in tech, e.g., smart glasses, and whether these devices are being used for healthcare purposes. For example, Google relaunched Google Glass Enterprise in 2017, targeting healthcare companies.”

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