The Role of AR-VR Technology in the Health Industry


Retaining knowledge in medical education is changing. Simulation is increasingly becoming a cornerstone of the health industry. With increasing pressure on budgets and standardization, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are emerging as new methods of delivering simulation.

VR is the virtual construction of an artificial world such as – medical imaging VR can enable better planning to support patient safety by reducing their exposure to radiation dose.

AR involves overlaying computer-generated images onto images of the real world. In other words, it is computer-generated imagery that is visible through the use of virtual visualization where the images are overlaid onto real-life surfaces in the present environment.

Benefits of using AR/VR in the health industry

The published literature suggests a positive educational impact of using AR/VR in the health industry.

  • Realistic experience: Paper-based learning material might cause misunderstandings as it is hard to imagine the 3D relationship between components based on 2D materials. AR and VR create life-like virtual objects that give the most realistic impression of how the human body is built and how it functions, provide a high level of immersion for the user, as the user can interact with the virtual environment in a realistic manner, and allow easy manipulation of the digital subject, with unlimited repetitions so that spatial inter-relationships can be identified and explored in three-dimensional space.
  • Low risk and high safety: Teaching resources such as real-life cadavers are limited and critically have strict storage restrictions based on health and safety rules. Training in augmented reality as compared with practicing on real patients involves much less risk for the patient and provides an opportunity to learn and perfect skills, thus inspiring much higher confidence in the learner.
  • Cost-effectiveness: The cost of AR apps is relatively low in comparison with the cost of setting up anatomy theatres and providing cadavers and specimens for students to practice. Additionally, VR simulators provide a relatively low-cost opportunity for reproducible training under various environments and difficulty levels.
  • Higher efficiency: Tablets, mobile phones, AR glasses, and other optimized devices can be employed as hardware for running AR applications. Thus, AR and VR provide standardized medical training on demand irrespective of geographical location, as opposed to the learners working in the laboratory where they have to rely on the schedule and the availability of disposable materials.
  • Availability of expert assistance: Augmented reality apps can easily connect trainees or remote workers with mentors or experts who can provide instructions or assistance in real-time.
  • Accessible to all: They do not raise ethical issues compared with other animal and living tissue simulation models. VR and AR-based medical education include teaching programs for individuals with reading disabilities (a barrier to traditional textbook-based learning).
  • Shortened training timelines: Instead of the faculty-led day-long event, AR and VR will allow the simulation to be more like going to the gym. Learners will be able to learn at the end of their shift or even at home, allowing to shorten the training timelines.

These advantages are further highlighted by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused an even greater shift towards online learning, due to restricted face-to-face access.

Applications of AR and VR in the Health Industry

  • Anatomy, with the 3D visualization of hardly comprehensible structures, and physiology, with the representation of mechanisms in 4D (in space and time dimensions), are the main areas where AR and VR are used.
  • VR and AR find most of their applications increasingly being used in laparoscopic surgery training.
  • Training in robotic surgery with VR simulators enables medical professionals to attain better and transferable surgical skills. Novices are found to be particularly benefited from training in robotic simulators.
  • Virtual Reality Educational Surgical Tools (VREST) has developed an open surgery simulator for training and assessment.
  • Neurosurgery training is a field where VR and AR simulators are usually found.

What lies in the future?

The pace of change in medical practice has been relentless. The interprofessional nature of care and the complexity of healthcare systems are vastly different today than they were 20 years ago.

It is no longer a question of whether an individual can retain or access facts, but how they use them, evaluate them and apply them to patient care.

Hence, there is a move to replace rote learning (a process of memorizing information based on repetition) with more clinically relevant and practical teaching. Hence, immersive technologies such as AR/VR have gained momentum as a method of delivering experiential learning.

In the future, VR and AR will become an integral part of healthcare training. The technological developments in AR and VR will allow shared simulated clinical experiences. This will facilitate quality interprofessional education at scale and transform how we deliver education to the clinicians of the future.

Interactive AR and VR

Interactive AR and VR involve a totally immersive, dynamic, adaptive, interactive world.

In the context of medical training, AR and VR can include – virtual wards, interactive patients, colleagues and relatives, with interaction similar to real-time interactions.

The learner can be in the virtual world, moving and interacting with the virtual environment and patient as they would in real life.

Once scenarios are completed, learners can receive virtual debriefing by the educators facilitating conversations through web-based videoconferencing platforms and view automatically-generated feedback on their performance. This allows learners to examine their performance in more detail and provides the opportunity for blended learning. It also facilitates peer learning as learners can share feedback with their colleagues and mentors as a basis for discussing specific learning points.

The standardization and scoring possible with VR will make it commonplace in continuing medical education and revalidation and become a benchmark to ensure clinical competency and patient safety across healthcare systems.

How Impelsys can help?

Impelsys has a state-of-the-art Innovation lab that explores emerging technologies and provides the best learning experience by using the latest technologies such as AR/VR. With vast experience in enabling healthcare professionals to improve patient care using cost-effective digital training programs, Impelsys is now able to provide more immersive and fully interactive healthcare training using AR/VR technologies.