How is AR and VR changing the face of Healthcare? | Dr. BS Tomar

How is AR and VR changing the face of Healthcare?

Most individuals harbor a general dislike of medical procedures, with many even grappling with medical phobias. Surprisingly, statistics reveal that two out of three children and one in four adults harbor intense fears of needles. For them, a routine blood test could become a nightmare if a nurse fails to locate the vein on the initial attempt. This occurrence transpires frequently, accounting for 40% of all blood tests. However, there exists a solution to alleviate such distress.

With appropriate digital healthcare solutions, healthcare professionals can mitigate patient anxieties. Specifically through the utilization of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies. When nurses employ AR and VR solutions for blood tests, their accuracy skyrockets to an impressive 90%. Armed with this knowledge, patients may be inclined to seek out clinics that utilize these precision-enhancing technologies.

This exemplifies how virtual and augmented reality is revolutionizing medical services, stirring them to extraordinary levels of efficiency and patient comfort. Moreover, these technologies hold massive potential across various facets of healthcare, prompting numerous startups to capitalize on this trend by developing increasingly sophisticated solutions.

Explaining AR and VR in Healthcare

Before looking into their applications in healthcare, let’s understand how AR and VR function. These technologies merge the virtual and real worlds, augmenting reality with digital elements. Despite their similarities, they possess distinct characteristics and are employed based on specific use cases.

VR provides complete immersion into a virtual environment, necessitating specialized equipment such as helmets, 3D goggles, headsets, and gloves for users to engage with it entirely. Users can move within this virtual space and interact with its elements.

A recently launched device, Apple Vision Pro, revealed during WWDC 2023, offers integration of digital content with the physical world through eye and hand tracking and a three-dimensional user interface. Its impact could revolutionize telemedicine, surgical planning, and rehabilitation, potentially even blurring the lines between digital therapeutics and medical devices, prompting the need for clearer regulatory pathways. It has been quoted as the ‘The Ultimate Display.’

In healthcare, VR finds application in treating nervous system disorders and alleviating anxiety through heightened awareness. For instance, VR can offer patients undergoing brain surgery a virtual tour inside their own brain, utilizing 3D models generated from MRIs, CT scans, and angiograms. By donning a VR headset and employing a touchscreen interface, patients can explore these models from various angles, enhancing their understanding of their condition and the surgical process, thereby fostering reassurance.

In contrast, AR does not entail complete immersion but enhances the real-world environment by overlaying digital objects. Users utilize camera-equipped devices like smartphones or tablets to view digital elements superimposed onto physical surroundings.

AR proves particularly beneficial in healthcare for enhancing the accuracy of medical procedures and diagnostics. Consider vein detection, for instance. AR systems integrate laser-based scanners and processing units to scan the skin, visualize underlying vasculature, and project it onto the surface. This enables healthcare professionals to precisely pinpoint vein locations, enhancing needle insertion accuracy.

As both technologies continue to evolve, their applications in healthcare expand to tackle increasingly complex challenges. The benefits of AR and VR have been evaluated positively by medical practitioners and patients, with analysts predicting rapid growth in the AR and VR healthcare market in response.

Augmented Reality for 3D Body Mapping

Performing surgery always carries inherent risks, often exacerbated by a lack of clear visibility into a patient’s internal anatomy. While MRI and X-ray scans aid in navigation, true clarity often only emerges during the surgical procedure, leading to potential errors and adverse outcomes. To mitigate such risks, tech startups have developed augmented reality (AR) tools that generate virtual 3D representations of patients’ bodies. These solutions provide doctors with enhanced visualization capabilities by analyzing MRI scans and translating the data into layered 3D body maps.

When equipped with an AR device, doctors can peer beyond the skin’s surface, examining intricate 3D body sections alongside organs, veins, arteries, and bones. This technology enables the identification of tumors, inflamed areas, and other sites requiring intervention, facilitating precise surgical procedures and informed decision-making.

Real-Life Example: Reconstruction of 3D Body Sections

Iowa Spencer Hospital sought to enhance the safety and accuracy of medical procedures, leading them to adopt an AR solution developed by a US-based startup. Leveraging simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology, this AR tool enables doctors to visualize internal organs and structures simply by directing a smartphone toward the patient’s body. The resulting detailed body scans have significantly improved biopsy success rates by 50% and increased the accuracy of aneurysm surgeries by 30%.


  1. Enhancing the safety and precision of medical procedures through accurate body mapping
  2. Gaining comprehensive insights into a patient’s internal anatomy through 3D visualization
  3. Improving complex medical interventions to identify optimal treatment approaches

AR for Maintenance in Medical Labs

Modern medical laboratories boast advanced equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters, essential for precise diagnostics. However, like any sophisticated technology, these instruments are susceptible to malfunctions, often requiring third-party experts for repair. This reliance on external assistance can result in prolonged downtime, costing labs significant time and money.

The repercussions of unplanned equipment downtime extend to hospitals, where delayed test results impede patient diagnosis and treatment planning, decreasing patient satisfaction and eroding trust.

AR technology offers a solution by empowering in-house lab technicians to perform maintenance and repairs swiftly and independently. Through AR helmets and glasses, technicians can engage in live video streams with remote experts, who provide guidance and instructions for seamless repairs. Moreover, AR-enabled devices offer technicians 3D visualizations of equipment internals, accompanied by step-by-step maintenance manuals, facilitating autonomous repairs even without remote assistance.

Real-Life Example: Fixing Lab Equipment

LabFlorida has embraced AR remote assistance to streamline the maintenance and repair of its medical testing equipment. Previously reliant on onsite experts, the lab now connects with remote technicians via AR glasses, enabling rapid resolution of issues. This shift has empowered onsite technicians to address failures autonomously, significantly reducing downtime and improving productivity. In 2022 alone, LabFlorida saved approximately $500K on maintenance expenses.


  1. Reduction in maintenance duration and costs
  2. Bridging the skill gap between onsite engineers and remote technicians
  3. Enhanced productivity and autonomy in equipment maintenance

VR for Mental Health Treatment

Mental Health America raises concerns over the prevalence of mental illness, with one-fifth of the adult American population affected. However, 60% go untreated, often due to symptom neglect or fear of unknown treatments and medication side effects, including addiction.

VR technology has revolutionized mental health treatment by offering drug-free alternatives that are effective, comfortable, and accessible, allowing patients to receive therapy from the comfort of their homes. Through immersive environments, VR enables meditation, breathing exercises, and exposure therapy to confront fears, such as phobias of spiders or large waves, in a controlled setting, promoting stress management and coping strategies while incorporating an element of enjoyment.

Additionally, VR offers distraction games for anxiety management, relieving and enhancing overall well-being. By simulating real-life scenarios, VR therapy equips patients with practical skills to manage symptoms and transfer learned techniques to real-world situations.

Real-Life Example: Treating Cognitive and Behavioral Health Conditions

XRHealth has developed a virtual clinic utilizing VR therapy to treat mental health disorders, providing patients with VR headsets, a mobile application, and a data analytics platform for remote treatment guided by licensed therapists. For instance, patients with phobias receive exposure therapy in a safe virtual environment tailored to their fears, gradually increasing intensity as they progress.

A US healthcare provider leveraging XRHealth’s solution reported significant success, with 424 out of 470 patients fully overcoming their fear and anxiety through VR therapy, even those with severe symptoms. This approach offers targeted, personalized therapy at home, resulting in more complete recoveries from mental disorders and reducing reliance on medication.

The misuse of painkillers, often containing highly addictive substances, contributes to alarming statistics, with 40 deaths in the US daily attributed to prescription opioid overdoses, surpassing fatalities from heroin and cocaine combined.

As a drug-free alternative, VR technology offers promising solutions for pain management, aiming to mitigate the use of harmful opioids and prevent overdoses. By immersing patients in interactive virtual environments, VR apps provide a cognitive distraction, diverting the brain’s focus from pain sensations. Whether through gamified experiences or serene landscapes, these virtual environments offer relief and comfort to patients experiencing pain.

Real-Life Example: Alleviating Pain

St. Jude Research Hospital sought to provide patients with non-pharmacological methods for managing chronic pain, reducing reliance on addictive opioids and offering alternatives for patients unsuitable for sedation. Implementing EaseVRx, a VR platform utilizing goggles and headsets to create immersive 3D environments, the hospital offered patients various programs, including pain distraction games and relaxing escapes. Additionally, educational tools equipped patients with techniques for pain management. After six months, the hospital reported a 50% reduction in pain scores and a monthly saving of $200K on pain-relieving medications.


  1. Decreased dependency on highly addictive opioids in pain treatment
  2. Reduced hospital admissions due to the efficacy of VR therapy
  3. Offering a safe treatment option for patients unable to tolerate analgesics


The examples presented illustrate the rapid advancement of AR and VR applications in healthcare, showcasing their ability to tackle increasingly complex challenges. While initially utilized for medical training and diagnostics, these technologies have evolved to encompass a broader spectrum of healthcare tasks. Today, clinics leverage AR and VR for mental health treatment, chronic pain management, body mapping, and expedited medical equipment repairs. As AR and VR progress, their potential for revolutionizing healthcare becomes increasingly apparent.