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European healthcare goes XR*

*XR = Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR) & Mixed Reality (MR)

The 14th of June 2018 was a remarkable day. Our team pitched at three conferences: The European Digital Forum in Lucca (Italy), The 5th conference on Digital Health in Antwerp and VR in Healthcare Meetup in Brussels. The latter two are conferences focused on evolutive and disruptive innovation across the health ecosystem. Considering that up until then, media had been the main focus of the company, we decided to immerse ourselves in the use of VR/AR in the healthcare industry.

What stood out immediately was the size of the market. The total healthcare/medical industry in Europe is the second strongest vertical in terms of funding in 2017, after fintech and before foodtech. When looking specifically at VR/AR, Goldman Sachs has estimated healthcare’s potential to reach 5,1 billion $ by 2025, which makes it the number one enterprise application before engineering and education.

Secondly, looking into the many use cases, we quickly identified three main drivers: Patient Empowerment, Alternative Treatments and Workflow Optimisation of the Medical Staff.

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The European Patients Forum defines Patient Empowerment as: “A process that helps people gain control over their own lives and increases their capacity to act on issues that they themselves define as important”. The forum characterises five aspects of this empowerment:

  • Self-efficacy
  • Self-awareness
  • Confidence
  • Coping skills
  • Health literacy

All five aspects can be leveraged with VR/AR.

VR/AR can be used to enable patients to virtually visit a hospital prior to being hospitalised. It helps the patients to better understand where to go to and what they need to bring. Poppr, a Belgian company, developed an experience guiding pregnant women around the E.R and fertility department, prior to going into labour. When the moment arrives, first-time moms feel less stressed and worried about what’s next.

VR/AR is also the perfect medium to visualise surgical procedures (future or past interventions). The patients can watch what will/has happen(ed), as opposed to listening to a physician trying to clarify complicated medical information. The Followknee research project, supported by the French government, is a good example as they use mixed reality to personalise the follow-up of implanted prostheses with patients. Prior to a surgery, XR builds a comfort level with patients; post-surgery, it will reduce the cost of care.

VR can also be a part of the services patients receive during hospitalization. Transporting patients virtually to another destination like museums, tropical beaches or a patient’s (old) home will help to reduce stress and anxiety which results in healing. Feeling more relaxed is an important variable to improve one’s physical health, which brings us to the second area where VR/AR is a disruptor: Alternative Treatments.

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VR/AR have also proven to help in healing mental illnesses, physical conditions or in reducing dependency on pain medication.

Oncomfort, a Belgian company, develops VR experiences to reduce patients’ pain and anxiety before, during and after interventions and treatments. The Dutch company InMotion VR, created VR treatments for physical rehabilitation. During the exercises, the medical staff can monitor the health of the patients using real-time data capture. Another company in this space, is London based Immersive Rehab. Their VR experience is designed to treat patients with important neurological upper limb mobility limitations. Brain Power, a company based in Cambridge Massachusetts (the only non-European company featured here), uses AR to treat mental disorders. They have created a Google Glass-powered educational augmented reality tool ‘Empowered Brain’ that helps children with autism to socially interact with others.

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Within “XR meets health meets ed tech”, we have found many use cases. An important one is to educate staff on new/unique medical procedures. The Swedish company Surgical Science develops virtual reality training tools for laparoscopy and endoscopy. London based TouchSurgery has created over 100 surgery simulations using augmented reality.

VR/AR also changes how physicians access patient’s medical information. Since 1950, diagnostic images have been shown on 2D flat screens. This process forces physicians to look away from the patient, including their own hands. Using VR/AR, diagnostic images can be displayed in the physician’s direct field of view. Nomadeec, a French company, has recently developed a similar application targeting paramedics. They have added the hololens to the telemedicine solution paramedics take with them on scene.

Based on the above motives and examples, the healthcare industry is definitely shifting gears in leveraging VR/AR in their field. How can WebXR as a new distribution technology, be part of this story?

Since 2016, LucidWeb has been focused on the WebXR standard. It’s a relatively new standard that enables to stream high quality VR/AR content to a consumer’s default browsers. The standard makes it easier to create, enjoy and share VR/AR experiences via any device (smartphone, tablet, desktop, VR headset). To make their content available, the publisher doesn’t need to invest in building several native applications, they can reach the widest audience possible via one URL, provided that it is WebXR enabled. As for patient empowerment, the technology democratises the access to XR content as a 3D visualisation is shown via the browser on their phone, no need to download an app. In the educational use case, the staff can learn from the immersive experience via the magic window, the cardboard, the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift/Go, the experience adapts to the device at hand. The option of sharing the experience via one URL via the hospital newsletter also impacts the general interest of the surgery/training and not only of the staff it was intended for.

We collaborated with the University Hospital of Nantes and Picseyes VR to create an educational, interactive 360° video experience of an endovascular surgery . The Paris based studio opted to build the experience using WebVR, because of the hardware independent viewing experience. 2D hotspots provide more information on the medical profiles present and the machinery used during the operation.

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Educational WebVR experience by LucidWeb in collaboration with CHU Nantes & Picseyes VR (FR)

After a public consultation in 2017, the European Commission confirmed that one of the three priorities of the Digital Transformation of Health and Care in the Digital Single Market is “citizen/patient empowerment with digital tools for user feedback and person-centred care”. This ambition has been reconfirmed with the launch of a new instrument, the Digital Europe programme. The European Union will invest €9.2 billion from 2021 to 2027 on several key digital challenges, including (e)healthcare & citizen empowerment.

It is clear that technology such as VR/AR, 5G, artificial intelligence or supercomputing will translate into innovative approaches to independent living or integrated health and social care. At LucidWeb, we strongly believe the digital transformation won’t happen one application at a time. WebXR dramatically democratises & simplifies the distribution of a VR/AR experience, targeting both patients and staff. We are excited to continue building more prototypes together with medical and governmental institutions across Europe.

The LucidWeb team.

Credits go to Flore Coffyn for the editorial input, Gabrielle Marsan for the research and the visuals were created by Alina Beraldi.

If you are keen to learn more about healthcare VR/AR and meet the most promising startups in the field, join us at the next Healthcare Summit in Amsterdam. The summit takes place on Friday the 26th of October in de Kromhouthal and is part of VR Days Europe. This first edition is dedicated to “Virtual Agents”.

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