Pokemon GO – the recently released augmented reality game that layers virtual, catchable creatures over the real world – has been a wild success and is being played everywhere. People love to share images of the Pokemon they’ve found, which are usually thematically tied to the location where they’ve been caught, for example, water-type Pokemon near a lake or bug-type Pokemon near a park. Pokemon can be caught anywhere, including hospitals, and it turns out those are often themed as well – like this one known as “Koffing”.
Many people who posted pics found irony in how the augmented reality game overlays germ-inspired Pokemon with names like “Koffing” and “Weezing” in their hospital room or waiting area. While it is in some ways ironic, what’s unfortunate is that it might not be far from the truth. There are pathogens that can cause hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) like C. difficile and MRSA that can lurk within hospitals. Recent studies show that HAIs affect 1 in 25 admitted patients. (Our Xenex LightStrike™ Germ-Zapping Robots aren’t yet adroit at throwing Pokeballs, but they can throw pulsed xenon photons–using disinfecting light to combat HAIs.)
There’s not yet an augmented reality app that can show the invisible, real HAI dangers in healthcare spaces, and we don’t expect Pokemon GO to measurably increase HAI awareness. Augmented reality technology similar to Pokemon GO has, however, already been used in applications in healthcare. Some of the primary markets relevant to hospitals are pre-operation assessments, patient monitoring, medical simulations and minimally invasive surgeries. Just to highlight a couple of examples:
AccuVein: To aid in vein visualization, AccuVein projects onto the skin to make it more apparent where veins are. Their research indicates 40% of IVs miss on the first stick, with children and neonatal patients being the most difficult. The technology can make sticks 3.5 times more accurate.
HelpLightning: Formerly known as VIPAAR, their “mobile merged reality and virtual interaction” technology merges real-time views, supporting collaboration and consultation. This supports anything from assistance with medical device operation and repair, to virtual consultations with specialists and even the ability to perform virtual surgery with Google Glass.
Investments are rapidly being made in the augmented reality space, especially in healthcare. A recent Goldman Sachs report saw the addressable market for virtual and augmented reality applications in healthcare had a size of about $5.1 billion. Applications like AccuVein and HelpLightning just scratch the surface of what it will make possible, and applications like Pokemon GO do help to build public awareness of and familiarity with the technology. We look forward to seeing more inventive uses of this technology in the healthcare space in the future.