Augmented & Virtual Reality Technology amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
We explore this new world of augmented and virtual reality technology and how this is helping us during the Covid-19 pandemic
How it all came about?
Emerging from the gaming industry, no one thought that Augmented and Virtual Reality would spread across like COVID-19 to other industries worldwide. The healthcare industry is not immune to this phenomenon, in fact, the technology is capable of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic itself in multiple ways.
Many have heard of Second Life – an online virtual world first released in 2003, capturing millennials’ way of interacting with each other by creation of their own avatars. As well as Pokémon Go, released in 2016, being one of the first crazes to allow humans to immersively interact with cartoon characters in the real world. This type of technology will become commonplace in the next decade and it is important for us, healthcare professionals, to capitalise on this.
So what is the difference between Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality?
Well, in simple terms, Virtual Reality (VR) is when you wear headgear and you are totally immersed in the newly created ‘virtual’ environment. Whereas Augmented Reality (AR) allows part of that ‘virtual’ component to be superimposed onto the real surrounding thus creating an ‘augmented’ experience. The latter can be controlled simply by hand gestures, head movements, or gaze. Mixed reality (MR) contains a bit of both.
Through this technology, you can do anything you can possibly imagine and learn new skills without any risks. For example, learning to fly an aircraft, teleporting from one place to another, or for us, clinicians, to be able to practice certain skills like performing a lumbar puncture without harming real patients.
This technology’s ability to be controlled and delivered remotely without touching means it is a perfect solution during an infectious outbreak such as COVID-19. Already we have seen such innovation to tackle the immediate need for globally connected educational platforms for frontline workers.
Use of Augmented & Virtual Reality technology amidst the Covid-19 pandemic
Let’s explore some examples of how the UK has embraced the use of augmented & virtual reality technology amidst the covid-19 pandemic:
- Medical Realities – a health tech company in the UK, has launched a free online resource called COVID Med ED. This combines NHS guidelines and latest epidemiological data to train healthcare workers in essential, safe and core practices for COVID-19 through their immersive AR/VR platforms. It covers all skill levels ranging from medical students through to ICU specialists. Relevant modules cover risk management, donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE), infection control, and management of medical emergencies.
Volunteers and medical students can step up rapidly into the clinical environment. Retired health professionals can be re-trained and re-deployed safely to assist other frontline workers in the current pandemic. This online virtual immersive training platform contains a vast archive of trustworthy and up-to-date information suitable as a replacement of any face-to-face training in an expensive simulation laboratory.
- Oxford VR – a spin-off commercial branch of the department of psychiatry at Oxford University, who have created a virtual reality platform delivering psychotherapy through immersive technology for mental health patients. Its programme has been integrated into NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services and featured in the latest NHSX Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) blueprint.
This blueprint contains key information such as digital strategies, standard operating procedures, as well as data-sharing protocols. The COVID-19 crisis has obviously resulted in an increased incidence of mental health conditions and it creates the urgent need for the NHS to build a digital capacity to cope with an avalanche of therapies which will have to be delivered to affected patients. The AR/VR tools are a great solution for this.
- FundamentalVR – a London-based company, in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, has developed an educational platform to help train surgeons. Its platform combines VR with haptic sensors so a user will be able to receive physical feedback like real feelings when performing the operation. Each trainee can create a personal account and track progress as well as receive commentary from trainers. The company believes that every surgeon should have the opportunity to rehearse, practise, and test themselves within a safe, controllable space that is as close to real life as possible within an arm’s reach of their workplace.
- MVR CSynth Virus Explorer – a VR platform developed by Goldsmiths from the University of London which allows scientists to visualise and understand the geometry and structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the pathogen of COVID-19. Tapping into the international protein database, they can graphically construct the complex virus in real-time and display various molecular dynamic interactions such as the docking process of SARS-CoV-2 virus onto a human host.
An international example of AR/VR
Alcover deserves a special mention. It is a virtual reality app which allows people to enter into a familiar space alone or with family and experience things that enhance their quality of life. The primary aim is for the elderly to combat loneliness during the lockdown or while they are in isolation. It also integrates activities such as therapeutic exercises, impossible outdoor experiences, overseas trips, and cognitive training games.
Our imagination does not stop there, the applications of AR/VR/MR technology are endless. Many companies are seeking clinicians’ input into the development of applications of this technology in healthcare settings.
If you are interested in integrating this type of technology into your career, please check out these MF resources and other networking opportunities.