With the many varied uses of augmented reality, it’s not difficult to believe this technology would also have applications in seemingly unlikely fields like medicine and education — or both.
Employing augmented reality in medicine and medical training has great potential in addressing many issues in the healthcare sector. But more than that, augmented reality has allowed students of medicine to adapt to online learning amid the pandemic. Yet even with these advantages, we also found through studies that there are still some factors limiting AR from being this supreme medical technology many of us envision it to be.
So, how has augmented reality technology impacted medical training, and in what ways can it still improve?
How Augmented Reality in Medicine Facilitates Learning
For a long time, augmented reality technology has branched out of its widely known capacity to entertain. Today, it’s an emerging technology in more practical fields like medicine and learning.
But exactly how valuable is AR in learning spaces, particularly for training medical professionals?
One study reveals that, as opposed to conventional training, augmented reality-based training helped students of medicine exhibit significantly fewer errors during a complex procedure. In another study, extended reality technologies (i.e., AR, VR, and MR) improved the learning experience of preclinical medical and nursing students.
However, several studies also note there is a dearth of literature covering this potentially game-changing subject. But even so, using augmented reality in medical training can address several issues in studying medicine, mainly because of its potential to:
- Simulate surgeries and complex procedures
- Aid students in visualizing difficult and complex subjects like human anatomy
- Be scalable and reusable
- Be used in remote learning
- Reduce costs
Simulating Surgeries & Procedures
One of the significant medical applications of augmented reality involves simulating surgeries and procedures.
According to several studies, it’s an area of popular interest. And its applications span from orthopedic surgery to neurosurgery to cardiovascular surgery, a study on AR in surgery says. Using augmented reality in training aspiring medical professionals can assist them in locating precise areas of concern, which helps not only medical students but also surgeons going through preoperative preparation.
But augmented reality isn’t useful for medical training only; it’s also useful during a surgery or procedure. Just like augmented reality in fitness, important data can be displayed in real time. According to a review on AR in emergency care, doctors and healthcare professionals need to see live vital sign information and lab data without diverting their attention from their patient. Additionally, AR can guide surgeons during an operation by overlaying markers on the patient.
Granted, these require smart AR glasses or a lightweight head-mounted display. But if developments in technology achieve that level of sophistication and ease-of-use, augmented reality can do wonders within and outside of medical training.
Visualization of Complex Subjects
Augmented reality may also support medical education by providing students with a means to visualize complex subjects in real time.
Instead of 2D images and video-based instruction, medical students can interact with 3D images to make learning more engaging. For example, AR technology can overlay the image of the respiratory system on a mannequin, and students can interact with its parts to learn more about them. However, this requires a high level of accuracy in the 3D modeling process — and perhaps hardware beyond smartphones.
Scalability & Reusability
Applying augmented reality in online medical education can also demonstrate the technology’s power when it comes to scalability and reusability.
One of the greatest benefits of AR in education online, regardless of the subject or field, is learners can use it simultaneously. Many medical students can access the augmented reality application at the same time with no hassle.
But aside from that, augmented reality-based learning materials can be easily improved by integrating new findings. Because medicine is an ever-evolving practice, learning materials will have to adapt to its pace, something augmented reality can do.
Today, remote learning has shifted from being optional to mandatory. While schools are easing back into face-to-face classes, whether this setup will be the norm again remains uncertain. This is a huge problem for medical students who don’t have access to physical instruments needed for practical learning.
Augmented reality technology can assist medical training in this way — by giving students a way to continue practical learning remotely. AR may not completely substitute the traditional methods for practical learning, but it can support this part of medical training when the need arises.
One of the arguments for using augmented reality in medicine is its potential for reiterative use. For example, in contrast to actual cadavers, medical students can employ AR to study human anatomy.
The catch is augmented reality-based medical applications aren’t as sophisticated as we need them to be yet, several studies say. And this leads us to the several challenges of integrating augmented reality into medicine.
Challenges of Using Augmented Reality in Medicine & Medical Training
Augmented reality is a promising tool for those who train and work in medicine. However, there are certain drawbacks to the tech at present. Some of the core issues studies have observed when employing augmented reality in medicine are:
- The level of development of AR applications and hardware
- Graphical fidelity of data and markers during surgery
- General acceptance of augmented reality in medicine
Augmented reality in medical training requires precise data, both in terms of its graphics and the location of its markers. Minor errors can lead to life-changing results. And this fact contributes to the overall acceptance or rejection of this new technology in a traditional field.
While there is some distance to the future where AR is a widely accepted tool in medicine, advancements by tech and healthcare companies bring us closer to that reality. It’s only a matter of time before we see this technology transform into something instrumental to training bright minds working in the medicine and healthcare industries.
Augmented reality can support medicine and the training of medical students by:
- Simulating procedures
- Aid in visualizing difficult and complex subjects
- Being scalable and reusable
- Providing learning opportunities in a remote setup
- Reducing costs
While augmented reality today still requires further development, different companies are racing to make it as accurate and accessible as possible to medical students and professionals. When this is achieved, AR can influence the medical field in ways we may not presently imagine.
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