How can Augmented Reality change Healthcare?

 Mike Gillam, 3 April 2015

Augmented and Virtual reality are heating up in the consumer space. On the heels of the announcement that the Google Glass would no longer be sold, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, recently admitted that Google Glass isn’t dead. Google could be leveraging their $542M investment in the augmented reality company Magic Leap for the next version. FaceBook has just announced their first VR product in partnership with Samsung, the Gear VR, following their $2B investment in Oculus Rift.

This leads to the question, how can augmented and virtual reality change healthcare?

The halls and corridors of healthcare ebb, flow, and pulse with data. Every patient, caretaker, and device is a wellspring of data.

Healthcare has one feature that makes ambient data more valuable than virtually any other field: the data can save lives.

The effect of Augmented and Virtual devices is to deliver a “data lens”: a portal through which one can glimpse the data streaming behind the walls of healthcare.

AR and VR holds the promise of transforming the role of every healthcare worker.

For nurses, such as in a nursery, critical data about feeding time or medications can hover above every child.

For Clinicians, looking down a hallway can reveal every piece of patient data still waiting for them to see hovering and floating in front of every door. Sign out could simply become passing AR glasses from one clinician to the next. Though the data is “everywhere” – patient privacy would still be maintained.

Clinicians could see patient data floating in front of patient rooms. This video was a project our team did while running the Microsoft Healthcare Innovation Lab and working with Stan Birchfield, PhD at Clemson University.


Clinicians could also see data floating directly on top of patients. CT scans or X-rays would appear directly over the part of the body that was scanned.

Administrators looking at any employee could see the workflow metrics of not just the individual worker – but the entire workflow chain creating opportunities to unlock the actionable levers for every manager.

Families and patients could experience personalized ways of navigating a hospital. When looking at signs with augmented reality, navigation arrows could be customized to find that individual’s family member no matter where they might be in the hospital at that moment.

Augmented reality could be poised to change the very foundations of data visualization in healthcare. Today, healthcare is just waiting for the hardware that could deliver on the vision.

What other ways can augmented reality be used to change healthcare? Comment below.

Mike Gillam, MD, FACEP 2015

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