5G expected eventually to improve AR, VR and spatial computing for healthcare

By empowering new tools, 5G may help aid in caring for patients and preparing for complex medical procedures

by Rod Cruz, GM, Healthcare Solutions, AT&T Business

While augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and spatial computing are already being used in healthcare on a limited basis, 5G may eventually further enhance a doctor's ability to deliver innovative, less invasive treatments. Among 5G’s many ultimate potential applications, some of the most exciting involve its role in simulating complex medical scenarios and enabling alternative treatments for the critically ill.

AT&T is working at the forefront of this exciting field, exploring opportunities to apply 5G to medical challenges. AT&T is collaborating with VITAS® Healthcare to study the effects of eventual 5G-enabled AR and VR on patient engagement. The goal is to reduce pain and anxiety for terminally ill patients in hospice by providing calming, distracting content via 5G-enabled AR and VR.

AR and VR technology can also assist in facilitating medical training for difficult procedures. By generating low-risk, virtual training environments these tools may allow trainees to develop the skills required to succeed in real-world applications without putting patients at risk. Eventual 5G-powered AR and VR has the potential to help enable doctors, nurses, interns, and staff to visualize procedures in an engaging, learning-by-doing practice that will enhance their medical education.

5G’s increased data transfer rates should eventually  help solve VR sickness, which should accelerate the use of virtual technologies by students, clinicians and patients. Similar to motion sickness, VR sickness results from the mismatch between the information supplied to the eyes in virtual environments and the sensations registered by the inner ear’s balancing system. 5G can eventually lessen VR sickness by decreasing the lag or delay in translating the user’s real-world movements into the virtual space.     

AR and VR may also be able to  change the way doctors evaluate and treat other kinds of ailments. By more clearly  portraying intricate, hard-to-access anatomical structures through simulated environments, AR and VR has the potential to  help guide skilled practitioners in planning and executing difficult procedures.

NBC News reports, “Augmented reality technologies that blend computer-generated images and data from MRI and CT scans with real-world views are making it possible for doctors to ‘see under the skin’ of their patients to visualize bones, muscles, and internal organs without having to cut open a body.”

Wearable devices equipped with spatial computing from companies like Magic Leap can superimpose virtual images over ordinary objects to blend augmented enhancements with reality. With this virtual view of a patient’s anatomy, medical practitioners can better assess injuries and diseases to plan optimal treatments.

AT&T is collaborating with Magic Leap with technologies to advance spatial computing in the healthcare industry, particularly in the areas of medical education and training, diagnostics and surgery preparation, emergency care, and administering therapies.

AT&T continues to explore opportunities to apply 5G technology that can eventually improve medical treatments. To discover additional ways that 5G may eventually be able to change healthcare and how your organization can prepare, read our new 5G and Healthcare eBook