How Can Life Sciences Leverage Augmented Reality?

Michelle Schooff

When it comes to augmented reality and life sciences, many people think of the 144 billion steps taken by Pokemon Go players, leading to better health. But augmented reality is starting to play a much larger role in life sciences than you might be aware. From expanding children’s experience of science in the classroom to using technology to improve patient outcomes, augmented reality is already playing a key role in life sciences. Here’s a quick overview of some of the areas it’s impacting.

Augmented reality in the science classroom

Whether your life science classroom focuses on biology, health, or chemistry, augmented reality can help bring those topics to life. A wide range of options helps students better understand scientific principles and existing structures. Three-dimensional models of the human body enable students to explore anatomy without an anatomy lab.

Technology has many applications beyond anatomy. Are you trying to explain more complex portions of organic chemistry to pharmaceutical students? Virtual reality allows them to explore complex compounds in ways never imagined. Augmented reality apps allow students to combine compounds to see what potential issues may arise. It also allows them to observe microbiology interactions on a scale that would otherwise require complex microscope work.

Training the next generation of healers

Virtual reality has been used in surgical suites for the past decade. Combined with video conferencing capabilities, surgeons in remote areas can consult with experts across the country or around the world. A brain tumor patient in a remote area, for example, can have it removed close to home. As the surgery progresses, experts are available should any issues arise. MRI markers help determine the best path and approach to remove the tumor.

With 360-degree video, medical students and surgeons who want to expand their skills can use augmented reality to observe surgery, learning the process from a patient and expert surgeon who may be down the hall or across the globe. This type of training is also being used to help improve emergency response. A student can follow the actions of an emergency room doctor treating a patient. They can choose their actions and observe the potential benefits or drawbacks. When seconds count, this type of training can literally make the difference between life and death. Such training techniques are also being developed for emergency responders at the scene of an incident or accident.

Improving patient outcomes

Many of us have experienced a blood draw with multiple failed attempts. For patients who are nervous about needles, a new approach combining infrared and augmented reality helps improve success rates. The blood stands out on infrared, which is overlaid with the image of the patient’s skin. This makes it much easier to hit the vein the first time.

AR can also help reduce patient pain and anxiety levels without additional medication. Simple surgical procedures often require general anesthesia to reduce blood pressure levels related to anxiety. Some hospitals are experimenting with using virtual reality to “transport” patients to other locations, distracting them from the procedure taking place and reducing the need for anesthesia and pain medications. At the same time, surgeons can experiment with which approach will work best for a particularly complex surgery before they even touch a scalpel. Virtual reality combined with CT or MRI scans creates a virtual surgical environment, allowing surgeons to try the surgery several times to find the best possible solution for the patient.

Giving patients a new perspective on their health

It’s one thing to show a patient dry, dull statistics on their recent cardio tests. With patient medication adherence falling by half within a year of being prescribed, better tools are needed to convey the severity of a patient’s condition. One way to achieve this is by providing images of the effects certain actions can have on an individual.

Some augmented reality programs in development help patients see the physical results of specific medical decisions and procedures. Originally developed for doctors to see the results of calcium-based kidney medications on the heart, this technology has potential in many other areas. For example, it could enable smokers to see an image of current and future lung damage.

With the many areas augmented reality can be used in life sciences, it’s easy to see the advantages of this technology. Where can augmented reality take your company or organization?

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The IoT Imperative for Consumer Industries. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?


Michelle Schooff

About Michelle Schooff

Michelle Schooff is a global marketing director in the life sciences and wholesale distribution industries for SAP. She is responsible for the marketing strategy, messaging and positioning for SAP solutions in the global marketplace. With over 20 years experience in technology and marketing, Michelle builds strategic marketing plans that drive growth, innovation and revenue.