VR/AR technologies are developing quickly within the IoT landscape, driven by a combination of technological progress on one hand and creation of market demand on the other. Aided by advancements in active materials, software and hardware, and wireless activity, eyewear represents a major opportunity for healthcare. VR/AR headsets are more accessible and user-friendly, and the advancement of applications creates a more receptive environment for the use of VR/AR technology in healthcare.

Listed below are the key use cases of VR/AR technology in the healthcare industry, as identified by GlobalData.

Patient-centric healthcare

Healthcare is in the midst of a transformation into a patient-centric, consumer-led model from traditional medicine. VR/AR and wearable technologies have the potential to generate rich sets of data, making patients and wider consumers the point of care, moving away from patients having to go to the ‘ivory tower’ for health decisions. Consumer-led healthcare over the next few years will change patient care pathways, driving the industry to grow and collaborate in new ways. VR will primarily help patients directly with things like mental and behavioural health and visual impairment, as well as in understanding conditions or treatment plans better, while AR will provide a layer of support to HCPs during surgery, training, or in consultation to support medical note-taking.

Big tech and health

Tech players are becoming ever more embedded within healthcare, either through services, products, or combination ventures. Technology advances and acceptance are driving this integration, as the size of the populations owning connected devices increases, led by developed nations. Combined with leaps forward in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the market for VR/AR technologies is becoming more personalised and disease-specific.

Culture of digital health & healthcare of the future

It is expected that as the pace of innovation increases, a change in the culture of how digital health is viewed across all involved—public, policymakers, providers, and payers—and importantly, HCPs, will follow. While this is happening in some markets—the US, distinct areas of Europe, and Scandinavia—many regions are falling behind. At present, there is little to no incentivisation in place to motivate physicians and patients to use and understand the technology in practice. For HCPs, this may be heightened by fear of litigation over devices perceived as new and untested. Communicating the benefits of these devicesis crucial.

Innovations in technologies are revolutionising healthcare and creating a unified body of tools where data are continuously processed and analysed. The future of healthcare will facilitate more timely and accurate interventions, improving outcomes for patients and the entire healthcare ecosystem. Sources of data will include healthcare networks (hospitals, clinics, and laboratories), technology networks (sensors, monitoring, and IoT devices), and social networks. The US, Europe, and the Middle East are leading the way in terms of “Healthcare of the Future.”

Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) refers to the measurement and analysis of a patient’s health metrics including vital signs, heart rate, blood glucose, temperature, medication adherence, and movement. Utilising remote tools that can aid in monitoring health in a non-invasive, discreet, and seamless way is a convenient and comfortable solution for users. As patients and caregivers are increasingly given the option to provide care at home, unnecessary visits to healthcare establishments will be reduced, substantiating a decentralised healthcare model.

With global populations ageing and increased life expectancy battling dwindling finances and resources, a key market for RPM technologies is in the management of chronic disease, pain management, and mental health disorders, which are currently underserved and account for some of the highest spend in healthcare. Increased interest from tech companies and interest in reimbursement of remote patient monitoring technologies, will allow RPM to trigger significant change.

Clinical research

As the pharmaceutical industry increasingly looks to validate patient reporting with real-world data (RWD), it is also looking towards developing novel endpoints for drug discovery during R&D and every stage of clinical trial development. Wearable devices like VR/AR headsets can drive improvements by optimising innovation and improving the efficiency of R&D with more reliable data, lower costs, and improved effectiveness.

Clinical research on VR and AR includes existing and emerging technology, with researchers expressing interest in psychology, neuroscience, medicine, and behavioural sciences. Understanding efficacy is key, with current clinical research finding positive outcomes of VR use for clinical conditions such as anxiety disorders, addictions, phobias, PTSD, stroke rehabilitation, and for pain management.

Personalised healthcare

Digitalisation and the use of AI are revolutionising many industries, but its biggest impact can be seen in personalising healthcare. With the vast array of data collected by connected devices combined with medical data in the form of health records, the promise of personalised medicine is becoming more of a reality. Technologies that use AR and VR have the ability to intersect with other technologies including three-dimensional (3D) modelling, medical imaging, robotics, and AI. Ultimately, such interactions will provide more remote care options and more tailored treatment and diagnostics.

Health, wellness, and prevention

As the popularity of VR/AR devices surge, driven by the gaming and entertainment sector, interest in utilising the technology in health has grown. Combined with the population becoming more digitally aware, consumers can be encouraged to take note of their own health while passive Big Data collection from connected devices (for example, Fitbits) provides a more holistic profile of the individual’s health. Increasingly, this data enables the establishment of a clinical baseline where deviations accurately predict, and thus prevent, a disease state. Integrated biosensors into VR/AR devices provide one avenue for the health and wellness segment to explore.

This is an edited extract from the Virtual/Augmented Reality in Healthcare – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.