What Pokémon GO Tells Us about the Use of Technology in Healthcare

The biggest mobile game in U.S. history is driving Nintendo stock prices higher and has already attracted almost as many daily users as Twitter. The app is also being credited with helping Americans increase their outdoor activities and improving physical and mental health, thanks to all the walking users are doing to “catch ‘em all.” As virtual reality (VR), and to a lesser extent augmented reality (AR), become more affordable to the general public and for general use in smaller healthcare settings, these technologies will grow. And if we’ve learned anything from the Pokémon GO phenomenon, adoption doesn’t appear to be an issue.

Soon, VR devices, such as the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, the PS4 VR device, and Samsung Gear VR, will be (or are already) released under a $700 price point, with some as low as $300. AR devices, such as Google Glasses and the Microsoft Hololens, are available for developers, but are not quite ready for consumer use.  With the spread of affordable VR devices, their usage in smaller office settings and homes should exponentially increase. In fact, the Goldman Sachs Research Group predicts that VR/AR market share in healthcare will reach 5.1 billion by 20251.

VR and AR are both already used in healthcare applications. Broadcasts of 360-degree virtual reality surgeries have been watched live by thousands around the world.2 Recently, Case Western Reserve University3 medical school partnered with the Microsoft Hololens AR system for remote telepresence teaching and interactive anatomy lessons. Other existing applications include the treatment of phobias and PTSD via VR simulations and remote surgeries and observation4.

While the existing uses of VR and AR will be refined and utilized in smaller settings, applications aimed at the general population will soar. Educational and training materials, such as CPR or first aid simulations and disease-specific demonstrations, will become available. The sick and homebound may benefit from virtual vacations and sightseeing. AR games overlaid on the real world may help drive an active lifestyle.

For healthcare professionals:

  • Continuing education credits can be earned by completing virtual simulations for diagnosing conditions, performing virtual procedures, or interacting with patients in specific scenarios.
  • Remote presence and consults in the operating room and emergency room can broaden medical expertise around the globe at a low cost, and general informative or diagnostic applications can be accessed with AR glasses while examining a patient.

The wider availability of AR and VR hardware will attract innovation and investment from healthcare companies, providers, and developers. Healthcare organizations should make sure to understand the needs of their users – both consumer and professional.