Apple’s Vision Pro headset could be a healthcare game-changer, using virtual and augmented reality to enhance treatment and monitoring
- Virtual reality can improve healthcare in many ways, from sharing and displaying information to helping treat post-traumatic stress disorder
- Apple’s Vision Pro headset is being tested in a number of areas and shows great potential for multi-patient monitoring and surgical operations
Newly released to the public, Apple’s Vision Pro headset can already be used to display medical records, filling a doctor’s field of view with anything from graphs of a patient’s blood pressure over time to their latest chest X-ray.
The expensive new technology, with its ultra-high-resolution screens for each eye and multiple cameras for hand and eye tracking, brings a new level of precision to a realm that has mainly been the domain of video games.
It remains to be seen whether Apple’s latest innovations will have what it takes to usher in a new era of virtual reality in healthcare, but the new Spatial Computing Centre of Excellence now getting under way at Sharp HealthCare in the US city of San Diego aims to find out.
Sharp just took delivery of 30 Vision Pro sets, giving them to healthcare workers in various positions.
Apple is pitching this new product as a spatial computing device, one capable of projecting one’s digital work and entertainment across a broad virtual landscape, either transporting a person to a digital domain or overlaying information on a person’s immediate surroundings.
Sharp is working with Epic Systems, the industry leader in electronic health records systems, to explore how Vision Pro might be used in healthcare settings.
According to Dan Exley, Sharp’s vice-president of clinical systems, VR headsets allow people to view information differently than in the past, but there is a big difference between different and better.
Sharp’s focus, he says, will be doing rigorous comparisons of old and new methods, trying to identify which tasks work better using a headset.
“We have invested in enough devices so that, right away, we can have physicians and nurses and informaticists and software developers and others start using it,” Exley says. “We want them to work with us to figure out which tasks and workflows it’s best for.”
Some areas seem obvious.
Vision Pro uses internal cameras pointed at its user’s eyes to track their gaze, allowing them to select icons and other virtual objects by simply looking at them. This precise eye tracking suggests that the device might be very good at conducting patient eye exams in family medicine exam rooms.
But this technology is flexible enough that many are already suggesting less obvious ways it might be used.
Tasks where a single person must monitor multiple situations seem like a good place to start.
Nursing managers, for example, might be able to better visualise the vital statistics of all the patients assigned to nurses they oversee. Or workers assigned to monitor video feeds of patients at risk of falling in their rooms might be better off keeping watch with a headset, sweeping their gaze to feeds that need further investigation.
“You know, anaesthesiologists monitor a ton of information in real time: vital signs, EKG, spirometry, wave forms,” Exley says.
One idea is to put those readouts into the headset and have them appear around an anaesthetised patient’s head.
“Now you’re able to just keep your eyes on the patient, you’re not looking back constantly to see what the monitors are saying behind you,” Exley says.
Virtual reality has already made significant inroads into healthcare. It is a common technology used to deliver exposure therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, allowing patients to experience traumatic triggers, gradually causing stress reactions to become less intense.
Surgical teams are also starting to use augmented reality, overlapping digital images and real-world scenes to enhance medical procedures.
Studies are beginning to show that virtual models, which can be shown in three dimensions, are great for teaching medical professionals complex anatomy and for helping patients better understand medical procedures they will experience.
On a recent morning at Sharp’s new innovation centre, Dr Tommy Korn delighted in bringing up a 3D model of a human heart, rotating it to show its different chambers and even how blood flows through different valves.
Korn says wearing a headset during interactions with patients generally doesn’t make sense because doing so would reduce the amount of human interaction. But using VR to get a deeper look at a patient’s records before entering the exam room could be a boon.
“Now I’m armed before I go into the exam room, with all the knowledge organised visually and conveniently,” Korn says. “Now I can share that information with the patient and not be focused on the computer.”