Since the end of World War II, the average life expectancy has relentlessly trended upwards (Figure 1). One of humanity's goals is to continue this trend for as long as possible. It is unacceptable for anyone to have a shorter life expectancy due to lack of access to the right healthcare at the right time. Unfortunately, this is something we live with today (Figure 2) - the quality of care is a key determinant of preventable deaths around many middle income countries around the world.
There have been countless studies and enough literature globally to address problems that focus on patient’s access, right diagnosis, and timely access to quality healthcare. Few months ago, my grandfather was in need of an emergency surgery, and our family rushed him to the hospital. He was fighting cancer of the throat and stomach. Despite prepping for surgery, it was postponed due to lack of availability of functioning equipment. The fact that these were COVID times made matters worse - the wait was agonizing. Like my grandfather's, many other surgeries were also put on hold due to lack of equipment. Fortunately for us, we found a hospital in a nearby town with adequate capacity to treat him and we moved him there, but his surgery did not happen immediately. On the contrary, it was pushed back several times due to the unavailability of medical history, and it took us considerable time and effort to secure all documents required from the former hospital. After much back-and-forth, we finally got him cured. I'm certain we were one of the lucky few, and many patients might not have been as fortunate. We crossed many hurdles due to inefficiencies in the system. On the other hand, even healthcare professionals struggle everyday with the same system dealing with communication silos, training on the newest method and equipment, shorter waiting times at primary healthcare centres, and easy and timely access to patient health information at the right time.
Several innovations are used to address these inefficiencies, and transform the healthcare industry. Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Computer Vision (CV), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) come across as game changers that solve the data gap. Technology makes a big difference when a person moves through the entire healthcare system starting from the primary healthcare centre to physiotherapy after surgery. And the journey associated with navigating this journey will be made stress-free with technology.
Let’s take AR as an example, here’s how it’s reshaping our health today: [Source]
Digitise patient history for ease of access
Patients carry their medical history in a physical file (even in the digital age today) with doctor's notes and diagnosis information. You lose one piece of paper, writing fades away, or the prescription is misinterpreted, the entire file becomes unusable (and you need to go through the process once more).
In such instances, AR-first consultations remove the need for interpretation by visualising a patient's history in a 3D interactive manner. The simplicity of visualisation combined with a digitised access of patient data (decentralised and controlled by the patient) transforms medical record keeping, and improves quality of life for patients in more ways than one.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of healthcare systems around the world, and our healthcare professionals broke down. We need to invest in training infrastructure and the benefits of AR/VR as a learning tool is highly interactive, engaging, promotes an immersive learning environment, increases knowledge retention and comprehension of complex subjects is made simple.
Surgeons can perform surgery remotely via video conferencing thanks to AR technology. A remote expert assists the local surgeon using visual tools that were unavailable a couple of years ago using augmented reality. This application specifically has the potential to reach the farthest corners of the world instantly.
Certainly, technological advancements have served as a boon for patients to carry out their treatments in a safe and seamless manner. They serve the common goal of all healthcare professionals across the world of increasing life expectancy and improve the medical body of knowledge. Apart from the innumerable benefits, the greatest comfort they offer is a relief from stress and pain, before, during, or after complex surgeries. Most importantly, with the right technology, we no longer have to wait for the availability of equipment for treating our loved ones.