Event Round-up: AR/VR in health ‘From innovative to business critical'

On 21 July, techUK’s Health and Social Care and Technology and Innovation teams partnered to bring together the experts and companies at the frontline of AR and VR in health

On 21 July, techUK’s Health and Social Care and Technology and Innovation teams partnered to bring together the experts and companies at the frontline of AR and VR in health to look at the challenges and opportunities of the space and what we’ve seen in recent months as a result of COVID-19.

During the event, part of a series through which techUK aims to explore key industry adoption of AR and VR, we heard from:

  • Dr Shafi Ahmed, multi-award-winning cancer surgeon, futurist, entrepreneur, innovator and teacher 
  • Dr Rafael Grossmann, healthcare futurist, technology innovator, surgeon and educator
  • Stephen Docherty, industry executive, Health, Microsoft, and Joe Varrasso, HoloLens partner sales executive, Europe, Microsoft
  • Chris Scattergood, cofounder, FundamentalVR
  • Laura Foster, programme manager, technology and innovation, techUK
  • Leontina Postelnicu, programme manager, health and social care, techUK.

AR and VR are “just one part of a whole host of technologies” coming together to transform the ways clinicians connect with patients and educate the workforce of tomorrow, said Dr Shafi Ahmed. That’s been accelerated in recent months, with experts pointing to an “explosion of interest” in the use of immersive technologies in healthcare.

“It's compressed time. It's compressed three years into about three months, we're seeing rapid acceleration, technologies being used in clinical practice, education. And it's, I guess it’s like a springboard now for all of us who are in this space to accelerate that change,” Dr Ahmed said.

As organisations have had to turn to new tools to continue caring for patients and training students or clinicians returning to medicine, Chris Scattergood agreed that we’ve recently seen a shift. “This technology is all coming together really quickly, and I think we have taken two years out of it, at least. We're seeing the results of what's happened in the last few months, [which] have meant that you've kind of jumped that Gartner hype cycle and suddenly it's gone from a technology that's innovative and would be interesting and early pioneers and adopters (…) to something that's become far more mission critical.”

At FundamentalVR, his team was approached by Imperial to see if they could develop a tool to deliver meaningful training to the healthcare staff returning to the NHS to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s moved from innovative to business critical,” Scattergood said.

In the future, he sees the collaboration between industry, academia and the public sector as a key part in further realising the potential of immersive technologies. “The training hospitals really need the support of industry (…). And just as importantly, industry needs the support of those hospitals as well. And we see that that kind of combination of needs and support being quite important in driving meaningful VR forwards.”

Although healthcare is known as a space that has been slower to adopt innovation compared to other sectors, the need for transformation has never been greater. “We have to think differently, we have to innovate, we have to creatively disrupt in order to be able to move forward in caring for our patients,” said Dr Rafael Grossmann.

Back in 2013, he was the first surgeon to use Google Glass during live surgery. “When I saw what Google Glass could do, I said, I gotta do this. I gotta use Google Glass in order to improve how my students for example, experienced a surgery from my perspective,” he explained during the event. “Students today are watching, you know, behind our backs and trying to get access to that knowledge first hand, and for us [it] is very difficult to teach them.”

In addition to education, AR/VR could also improve the patient experience. Working with Microsoft, Great Ormond Street Hospital in London was recreated in a Minecraft world to help children and their families explore the hospital virtually before being admitted. “This helps the children become less fearful of arriving into the hospital environment,” said Stephen Docherty.

Microsoft has also been working with the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which is using HoloLens on COVID-19 wards, explained Joe Varrasso. Coupled with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, it uses Teams to send a secure live video-feed to a computer in a room where healthcare teams can see the view of the doctor treating COVID-19 patients. According to the Trust, this has reduced the amount of time staff spend in areas deemed as high-risk by up to 80%.

Please get in touch with the techUK teams if you would like to find out more!