Medical augmented reality (AR) activity today stems largely from first responder trials and initial forays into training and education applications. Examples are the HoloLens project at Duke University, used for brain surgery trials. Last April dr Shafi Ahmed, co-founder of virtual and augmented reality firm Medical Realities – cut off a tumour from the colon of a man in his 70’s. A 360-degree camera rig mounted over the operating table captured the doctors’ every movement in 4K and livestreamed it globally in VR.
Market research firm ABI Research predicts the market will hit an inflection point between 2018 and 2019. The market will then experience accelerated growth through expanded telemedicine and surgery use cases, including remote surgery viewings, preparations, and enhancing the operating room experience.
“Before medical AR reaches its inflection point, several key milestones need to be met,” says Michael Inouye, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. “Early first responder trials need to move forward to deployments. Expansion into more medical education applications will be critical, because they will ensure that AR becomes a tool that future professionals learn and can use after graduation, in the medical field and beyond. Interest for AR in surgery shows great promise but will require significant investment as well as safety trials. We expect to see this all start to take shape as early as 2017.”
Laying the foundation
Companies like Pristine (AR “see what I see” applications), Ubimax (AR software and services), and Vuzix (AR hardware), are already laying the foundation for the anticipated medical AR ramp-up. And while telemedicine already uses teleconferencing to provide remote connections between medical professionals and their patients, in the coming years, it could greatly accelerate the uptake of medical augmented reality, particularly if smart glasses use cases expand.
“Medicine, like any industry, will leverage new technologies to improve efficiencies and performance; and the move from a per-service structure for reimbursements to performance or quality of care will encourage this outreach for new technology,” concludes Inouye. “While the uptake of augmented reality might lag behind other industries, in part due to an often more rigorous vetting process, growth is certainly coming.”