The recent launch of SapientNitro’s augmented reality (AR) lungs on Channel Four’s Embarrassing Bodies ( ) made me ask why there is so little use of these new technology within the health arena.

AR has been around for quite a few years now, and the term itself was coined over twenty years ago.  The use of this technology has been very limited but is finally starting to take off – particularly in the advertising and fashion industries (for one of my favourite examples watch this video: Like many new technologies this has partially been as a result of reductions in cost as well as the growth in smart phone ownership.

The opportunities for AR in healthcare are potentially huge and just as for other industries the barriers to use are dropping. Currently it is still relatively new, providing a window of opportunity to grab attention but even without this “shiny new toy” appeal it has the potential to provide real value.

SapientNitro’s lungs show one very impactful use of the technology – education. As the Channel Four video shows, the impression on teenagers of seeing “their” lungs is huge.  Whereas all teenagers know that smoking damages the lungs, and many may have seen images of damaged lungs, to actually witness 3D lungs on their own body deteriorate as they input smoking usage figures is extremely impactful.   AR allows for this additional personalisation that an image or video can not achieve.

Given the issues that still exist with poor patient compliance and adherence any tool that could potentially improve patient education must be taken seriously.  Patient education can be a key element in strengthening compliance for certain patients and patient recall of information given in a doctors surgery is notoriously low.  Improving patient comprehension of the disease issue but also improving recall of the key health message can be extremely beneficial – to the patient and in turn to the healthcare system and even a country’s economy.

Education also plays a key role in prevention. Again the AR lungs video is a good example – hopefully the teenagers that took part in this video will be less likely to smoke as a result and thereby improve their health outcomes in the future. Prevention is an increasingly important national health concern – particularly given rising obesity and preventable disease rate.

There are other educational opportunities for AR but for HCPs.  Using AR as part of training for HCPs – e.g. Medical students – again it provides a very visual and real life way of learning.  Outside of education AR has all sorts of other opportunities too – for example in novel minimally invasive surgery techniques (for more information:

From a marketing point of view AR could help sales reps explain how novel products function or help with disease awareness campaigns targeted at patients, and being still a relatively novel technology could potentially even help a disease awareness campaign go viral.

Despite all the opportunities however there are still very few examples of actual use of AR within the healthcare arena – why?  Part of the reason has until recently been due to typical barriers of entry such as cost and technological barriers – however these are now disappearing. Another reason is the unfortunate reality that the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors are not exactly at the forefront when it comes to making the most of new digital technology.    No doubt this is a technology that we will start to see a great deal more of in the consumer goods and media industries and once they become common place then the healthcare industry  may start to venture into using the technology.  By this time of course it will have lost its novelty factor – but that’s life!

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