While the life sciences and Healthcare industry deals with rising costs on a daily basis, it also needs to balance the demands of going digital and the constraints of regulation. In this context, could augmented reality (AR) play a role in overcoming these challenges?
Augmented reality (AR) entered the popular imagination in 2016 with the launch of Pokémon Go, a hugely successful global gaming phenomenon, which made it clear that AR had massive untapped potential. The mobile game was among the early attempts to commercialize augmented reality technology and find its viable applications for businesses as well as consumers. The life sciences industry is also on the lookout for compelling use cases where augmented reality can transform patient/customer engagement, make treatment delivery easier for healthcare professionals, and aid advanced research in pharmaceuticals. With its ability to accurately recreate complex scenarios by superimposing digital assets onto real-world surroundings, AR could change how we approach research, development, and delivery in the life sciences.
First-time Right for R&D Projects
The cycle time for research and development in the life sciences industry can be upwards of a decade, which naturally, demands rising investments in R&D initiatives. Any technology that can reduce this cycle time would reduce the cost and get the drug out faster. AR can help visualize complex concepts and chemical interactions via 3D imaging. Images of organs can be rendered in 3D formats, allowing researchers to understand how a medicine travels across the human anatomy, interacts with in-vivo surroundings, and influences human physiology. In other words, AR brings to life theoretical ideas and hypotheses, reducing timelines for clinical trials and approvals. Drug companies are already keen to implement features such as chips in pills to figure out the diagnostics and the impact on the anatomy. AR could help them paint a clear picture by overlaying the impact of a drug on physical anatomy.
Assisting Physicians at the Point-of-Care
For life sciences companies, getting quality time with physicians is extremely difficult. Company representatives need to create maximum impact in the shortest time possible to demonstrate the features of their drug. Here, AR can help make a convincing argument. Specifically, in a surgical setting, AR can help doctors, care teams, and surgeons garner patient information, which would otherwise remain hidden. For instance, an overhead display can superimpose a layer of data on the patient's body during surgery, guiding movements across the procedure. The entire treatment plan can also be visualized in the pre-surgical stage, aiding risk analysis and helping physicians arrive at possible contingency plans. AR allows us to view both digital and physical objects at the same time. This means that a real-world understanding of the patient’s anatomy can be combined with detailed data, research information, and even past medical records.
In order to curb exponentially rising costs, the healthcare industry is trying drive outcome-based payments. AR allows the providers and device/drug companies to create a risk-proof plan that can ensure that the surgery is well thought through and has a better chance of a successful outcome for everyone.
A innovators are already making strides in this segment. A life sciences startup called Surgical Theater received clearance for its Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (or SNAP) from the FDA. SNAP uses AR as well as a patient’s CT/MRI scans to offer surgeons the most efficient approach. The AR component is useful for pre-surgical planning, enabling an end-to-end simulation where 3D images can be rotated or made semi-transparent to view hidden arteries or other structures. What this means, essentially, is that the power of digital imaging which was previously limited to 2D screens is now more holistic and available in hands-on scenarios.
Empathy and Engagement for Different Stakeholders
It is often difficult to explain the complexities of a procedure/healthcare innovation to patients, marketing professionals, and policymakers. This hinders the progress of the industry as a whole. With the introduction of AR technology, healthcare industry professionals can better communicate their ideas to the relevant stakeholders. In addition, marketers too can use this technology to demonstrate the power of a medical solution, which helps advocacy and funding.
Life science majors around the world have been experimenting with AR technology in this context for a while. Back in 2010, Bayer Healthcare applied AR to create an interactive festival-like setting on its website, driving awareness for hemophilia.In 2012, Pfizer launched an experimental campaign that used an AR-based mirror to blend a patient’s actual reflection with additional data to create an immersive experience. In the future, applications like these will become the industry standard, removing ambiguity around procedures and treatments.
Training a New Generation of Healthcare Professionals
Classroom applications are arguably the first logical step towards adopting AR in the life sciences industry. STEM education has always been perceived as a challenging area for students, which can discourage aspirants from pursuing their ambitions. With AR, educators can visually recreate concepts in biology, physiology, or chemistry, allowing students to better understand the nuances of a lesson. This will prove most relevant to less privileged schools and developing geographies where access to educational infrastructure is limited.
AR adoption in life sciences companies is gradually gaining momentum and its true potential will be revealed through integrations with CRM, EMR, and analytics components. The technology will create new opportunities to drive positive outcomes in R&D, medical education, clinical settings, and in-market commercialization. We look forward to extensive pilots, followed by a flurry of investments (expected to cross $5 billion by 2025), as the AR segment for the life sciences industry rapidly takes off.