How augmented reality is leading to real world patient improvements

It’s been a long time since the summer of 2016 when Pokémon Go was the biggest news in augmented reality (AR). Three years later and the technology has been advancing at speed, with multiple industries expanding its function and delivering a new class of innovative content. In particular, AR has been forging a presence in the life sciences industry, enabling better customer engagement, education, and brand differentiation. AR’s many uses include showing how a new medical device works, offering details about a complex disease state, or demonstrating a new therapy.

Augmented reality uses a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, to show a real-time, real-world environment that is augmented by computer-generated images – creating an interactive hybrid environment. AR technology has transcended from a novelty gadget to being integrated in our day to day digital experience. Anyone that has ever used a mobile app that helps people digitally paint their walls, decide where to place a sofa, or measure physical spaces has engaged with augmented reality.

Thousands of AR applications are already supporting industries such as retail, military and defense, gaming, real estate, advertising, and education. Graphical Research forecasts that, by 2024, the European augmented reality market will have grown to around $12 billion. Investment in software and devices that enable AR is only going to increase as the technology continues to innovate and introduce new areas of application.

“Graphical Research forecasts that, by 2024, the European augmented reality market will have grown to around $12 billion”

AR finds its stride in life sciences

The global healthcare augmented reality industry is set to grow at a 23% compound annual rate between 2017 to 2023. The technology already has a firm foothold when it comes to patient and doctor education, surgical visualisation, and disease simulation to improve patient treatments and outcomes.

A notable application of functional and innovative AR is a programme that reconstructs tumors in 3D so surgeons can view X-rays in real-time to reduce radiation exposure during radiotherapy treatments. Life science research companies are also finding applications for AR – using the technology to model cell signaling and turn different receptors on and off to visualise its downstream effects.

Augmented reality is helping to break down communication barriers by illustrating complicated concepts in interactive formats. One global pharmaceutical company uses a 3D heart modeling application to show the movement of medicine through the organ and its effects as part of a new treatment. Not only is AR supporting greater HCP to patient communication, but it is also being utilised by manufacturing, research and sales teams to better communicate the complexity of new treatments and how much more advanced they are than previous treatments.

Bringing new products to life with AR

As more complex therapies are introduced to the market, AR is proving a perfect fit to help explain complicated science and unique delivery mechanisms involved in an engaging and easy to understand manner. Augmented reality allows brand and content teams the ability to create detailed, immersive experiences that better engage with HCPs, generate excitement about a new therapy, and instill greater confidence during the early phases of the drug or device commercialisation process.

Fundamentally AR helps audiences to visualise a product even when it is at a purely conceptual stage or when scale and costs can present a barrier to truly experiencing new drugs and medical devices. Presenting products with AR meets HCP’s preference for digital engagement and allows them to explore the mechanisms of new therapies that were previously prohibitive to demonstrate in a hospital or physician office due to weight, size, or security restraints.

The beauty of AR – when used appropriately and correctly – is that it enables life sciences companies to tell a compelling story, demonstrating how a body experiences a disease and then how it reacts to the new treatment at different stages. HCPs can, in turn, more clearly see how a new product can help patients throughout the progression of the disease state so they can communicate this to patients.

Highly engaged HCP outreach with deeper understanding

Compared to traditional 3D modeling, AR provides a more interactive and engaging experience leading to greater retention of complex concepts. Instead of reading or being told about a new drug or device, HCPs can virtually experience the product, visualising the effects and practice procedures.

Field reps utilising AR use their mobile device to make their pitch. By facilitating this direct engagement with a new drug or device, field reps are enabling HCPs to do a deeper dive into a product and gain important insights about its intricacies. This results in a more memorable experience compared to an often static, two-dimensional presentation.

AR works best when it supports already engaging concepts, and it is important that AR is only used when it is the best-suited medium for delivering a message. For example, AR shouldn’t be used to communicate the long-form written content found in medical journals. Companies looking to make their first foray into AR should consider how the medium can help demonstrate a concept that is perhaps difficult to convey through written or spoken words alone.

Opening the door to AR

As with all new technology, getting started can often be the most time-consuming step – AR is no different. Creating AR applications requires content creation, deployment, and maintenance supported by dedicated resources. There are cloud-based enterprise software solutions that now integrate AR capabilities into customer relationship management (CRM) processes.

CRM systems with integrated AR capabilities allow more efficient utilisation of AR. The presence and availability of AR capabilities in existing, familiar software enables life sciences companies to begin to experiment with the technology through smaller pilot programs across different channels. This can take place in a controlled environment with a limited audience to start with, before expanding to a wider outreach program. Cloud-based AR applications also enable life sciences companies to seamlessly capture and learn how their customers engage with AR content so they can easily share those insights across their organisation.

With the popularity and rapid growth of AR, more life sciences companies should be considering it as a valuable tool to aid communication, education, and engagement with customers and patients – on innovations that improve brand preference and patient outcomes.

About the author

David Logue is senior vice president of strategy, Veeva Europe