Reality, Immersion, and the Future of Healthcare

There is no question regarding the impact of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) on healthcare. AR and VR continue to revolutionize the way we study, teach, practice, and communicate in medicine. As multi-layered technologies refine and expand, the idea of Mixed Reality resurfaces as the umbrella encompassing all the possibilities for immersive experiences.

With so much content out there and no clear hierarchy or linear progression for consuming it, the door opens to iterative adjustments, as VR may be evolving more quickly than user understanding. These adjustments go along with any innovation to help bridge the gaps and allow for greater adoption. Familiar, traditional objects such as textbooks or notebooks can now interact with pens, mobile devices, and desktops, bringing 2D imagery to life for immersive learning on demand, allowing for writing to be translated to voice and voice to be translated to text, for images to be experienced and retained. This is Mixed Reality, immersive technology refined, for a more organic consumption of content, customized to user sensibilities. AR is for the real world and VR is for content magnification. Mixed Reality melds the two.

Science Fiction Becomes Authentic

At the recent CreateTech conference in New York, a fascinating lecture addressed how science fiction is feeding radical innovation and gave many examples of futuristic ideas from past fiction that authentically exist today. As the VR revolution bears out, the degree to which science fiction has been a profoundly creative vehicle for envisioning what’s possible for human advancement is impressive. The drones and robots of Star Wars now truly exist in some form. Who could have believed that we would now have physician clones proxying delivery of care?

Educational and business environments have been experiencing a Star Trek makeover as SMART boards and desks have replaced blackboards and whiteboards to amplify group engagement. At SXSW, Sony recently unveiled a prototype of a table where virtual elements interact with a traditional, familiar paper book. Programmed to recognize a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, character animations come off the page interacting with physical objects like a teacup or deck of cards. Fiction truly mixes with reality for enhanced learning through entertainment.

The idea of augmenting the physical world with creative illusions does pose a question regarding the degree to which fiction might threaten, reframe, or distort critical understanding. As an industry, healthcare has been slower to adopt immersion in marketing than other business sectors.

In today’s world, interruptive experiences are no longer enough to influence behavior. New technologies and devices have altered human relationships with media, and healthcare marketing has to become about deeper, more entertaining experiences.

Mixed Reality represents the convergence of real life with what it can be, collusion between physical and virtual, with streams of content and personalized data accumulated by records, sensors, cameras, and implantable or wearable devices. As immersive technology permeates the healthcare marketing industry, Mixed Reality will elevate, ignite, and enhance imagination and learning, truly delivering on the transformative potential of immersive experiences in medicine.

  • Heather Aton

    Heather Aton is Practice Lead, Customer Innovation & Planning at Elevate Healthcare. Heather’s role is to advance the goals of Elevate Healthcare, a multidisciplinary strategy practice specializing in shaping and translating product objectives into actionable sales and marketing strategies that drive commercial success. She can be reached on Twitter: @HeatherAton.


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