A new report indicates that the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) market in healthcare is poised to reach nearly $9.7 billion in value in the next 5 years. This specific niche is currently worth close to $2.7 billion, indicating that it will grow approximately 3.5 times by 2027.
There are many drivers of this phenomenon. Most notably, AR and VR have the potential to enable a variety of new modalities in healthcare, ranging from how physicians and other medical professionals are trained, to increasing their ability to practice medicine via telehealth and telemedicine. Indeed, the technology has enabled an entirely new perspective for the practice of medicine.
Many companies have already started capitalizing on this technology and the potential applications it holds for healthcare. I have previously written about how AR and VR are “the next frontier” for healthcare; this notion continues to be rejuvenated with increased interest and investment in the metaverse. One prominent example is Meta’s Reality Labs project to bring “touch to the virtual world.” The project resulted in creating advanced haptic gloves that allows the wearer to feel sensation virtually as if it were reality. Indeed, this realism is almost the final step in bridging the virtual world with the real.
As this technology continues to be perfected, the applications remain endless. With regards to education, this technology will enable quality education, not limited by the boundaries of physical resources or proximity. The virtual world will also allow for more collaboration. Given the realism which AR and VR enable, it will soon be possible for professionals to interact with each other and with patients in real time, perhaps even being able to conduct procedures or physical examinations as appropriate. Some of this collaborative work is already being done with Microsoft’s HoloLens platform, one of the world’s most robust AR/VR systems.
What are the cons? For one, increased reliance on technology always creates vulnerability. How will developers ensure security and privacy as patient data is increasingly being transmitted digitally and in the cloud? Furthermore, healthcare by definition is a humanistic profession. By replacing physical reality with virtual and augmented reality technology, is the field of healthcare doing itself a disservice with regards to eliminating the personal aspect of the patient physician relationship?
Indeed, there are still many things yet to be fully deciphered with regards to this technology, including its safety, privacy, and efficacy with regards to patient care. However, if done correctly and safely, it stands to potentially change the next generation of healthcare.