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Deloitte's Life Sciences & Health Care Blog

Augmented reality is coming to a patient near you

By now most people have heard of the new mobile phone game, Pokemon-Go. Pokemon-Go uses cellphone GPS data to identify when you are in the mobile game and allow Pokémon characters to “magically appear” in areas around you (through your phone screen). As you move around, different types of Pokémon will appear for you to catch. The idea is to encourage players to travel around their geographic location in order to catch Pokémon. This game provides a glimpse into an approaching next wave of personal wellness and patient engagement applications that will likely incorporate augmented reality into the mainstream consciousness and imagination.

Augmented reality games provide a twist on geocaching. I have gone on geocaching trips with my kids and generally enjoyed the pleasure of getting eaten alive by mosquitos while looking under every rock in a quarter mile for a box filled with a couple of dirty action figures. I did this voluntarily as it was one of the many ways to increase physical activity and get my kids engaged.

Augmented reality games, such as Pokémon-Go have showed innovation for the virtual world and mobile computing. These type of games have the ability to be a better option for the future of computing over virtual reality. If instances of augmented reality games utilize gaming to create interest, a game could be created to encourage physical movement to complete tasks. As time progresses we may see a rush to capitalize on augmented reality now that an application has shown how it can be integrated into our daily lives.

The potential implications in health care and medicine of these mobile phone games can provide a number of new avenues for keeping people healthy using augmented reality techniques.

Organizations can apply these techniques to make augmented reality games more customer-centric and engaging by:

  1. Adding augmented reality games to activate patients to keep ‘step counters’ up

This game model for making achievements while playing a mobile game creates a new model to help drive activity of people who are sedentary. I have already recognized the short term sea change of activity in my children playing augmented reality games on their mobile phones. While virtual reality does pose a few societal threats, it does provide physical movement in gaming which hasn’t traditionally been the case. Currently, I try do it by walking to work, about a 1.5 mile walk while listening to audio books on my phone. I’d be happy to find new ways, maybe games, more tuned to adult wellness and interests, to spend more time outdoors. If I am engaged in an augmented reality experience, I could spend time in foreign cities when travelling and enjoy exploring the location.

  1. Providing augmented reality for patient wayfinding and resource optimization

It may not be the most exciting health care application but wayfinding is still a big challenge in hospitals. New technologies such as blue tooth beacons and wi-fi tracking allow patients to navigate through a large complex space like a hospital. By adding augmented reality we can both help patients be active in their care and also better understand how their care is working. A clever developer can make being in a hospital feel more like a game to encourage behaviors that can lead to shorter lengths of stay.

  • For children and patients, adding creative experiences to a hospital visit may help to reduce the anxiety, discomfort, and boredom during a long hospital experience.
  • For physicians and administrators, an augmented reality view of the hospital can help to identify issues that need resolution such as viewing through a mobile phone where locations with high infections rates are, rooms with higher or lower utilization, and other facility related information.
  1. Providing patients with education, treatment, and adherence support

Having the ability to pair the intelligence of mobile computing with the images on the screen can help provide information to patients in an entertaining and useful way. A number of patient advocacy groups have designed such games that show how medication compliance impacts risk in diseases. Using a detailed game to show the actual body with a ‘look inside’ view can be impactful in helping to communicate the risks of patient behaviors in adherence and high risk situations, such as smoking and substance abuse. ‘Looking inside’ can also help the physician overlay information learned from imaging into new perspectives. Augmented reality may even be able to support treatment delivery such as helping an untrained family member needing to deliver injections to understand how and where to inject confidently or to see key points of pressure for a procedure like the Heimlich maneuver. Medication on a table or bottles of pills can be identified and have messages on top of them explaining when they should be taken, what they are, and other messages. Maybe messages can appear in the middle of games asking for actions for adherence as a way to gain experience in the game.

Augmented reality in health care is in its infancy, just like nearly everywhere else. What augmented reality games such as Pokemon-Go may have the ability to do is jolt everyone awake, including technology companies, creative physicians, patient advocates, and payers to the potential of how to take these games and use them to make patients healthier.

For now – I’m going to be outside looking for Squirtle and Pikachu with my son with the hope that it will keep my gut from getting out of control. I’ll try to be careful, as the game advises, and not break a leg.

Author bio

Dan Housman is a software veteran with a demonstrated track record of providing valuable and innovative decision support systems to large, complex organizations. Dan leads ConvergeHEALTH’s product innovation efforts with a focus on translational research, bioinformatics and innovative approaches to data capture, analysis, and reporting for clinical quality and performance improvement. Dan earned a BS in Chemistry and Biology from MIT in 1995.