Augmented Reality for Medical Devices: Improving Access to Care

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Healthcare systems increasingly engage the use of self-care medical devices that permit patients to enact care plans and manage chronic conditions within their own homes. These go beyond simple first aid kits, thermometers, or even blood pressure machines, and instead range from at-home dialysis to continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP therapy and diagnostic devices.

While convenience, the reduction of time and care access barriers, and better outcomes are all benefits that come with their use, it has traditionally been difficult for both clinicians and device manufacturers to provide responsive and high-quality visual assistance within the home to help patients onboard, manage or troubleshoot these devices.

As a result, there is a clear need for augmented support through technologies like live video and digital process automation to assist in the med device field. In this piece, we examine how remote assistance powered by augmented reality can better manage the installation, troubleshooting, maintenance, or repair of medical equipment installed within the home.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is the enhancement of an interactive, virtual component onto a real-world environment or situation, layering tools like informational text and 3D graphics atop a user’s field of vision.

The use of AR tools has witnessed exponential growth over the past several years, with more than a billion global users projected in 2022 alone.

A variety of sectors, from insurance to manufacturing, have deployed augmented reality technology for the benefit of both workers and customers.

Healthcare, of course, is another rapidly growing space for AR. PricewaterhouseCoopers produced research showing that its use in the sector produced a $35 billion boost to global GDP in 2021. The use of AR in healthcare spaces yields a number of benefits, due to AR’s innate technological capabilities. These include:

What are the benefits of using augmented reality for medical devices?

Studies show that medical devices are not only used by patients themselves, but also by professional caregivers such as occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, and home health aides. Whatever training a patient or even a provider has to manage their own conditions and care plans, both small and large issues can arise when engaging a medical device, particularly if the tool is particularly technologically advanced or sophisticated.

For patients especially, navigating paper manuals to learn to use or repair their devices can be impractical. When a device malfunctions, the patient may become frustrated or anxious, and unwilling to use it as a result. This may complicate the care plan prescribed by their medical team, and directly or indirectly contribute to worsened outcomes.

There are a number of ways the use of an augmented reality tool can prevent or mitigate problems with at-home medical device use:

Using SightCall, medical device customers experience an average of:

Why should AR-powered visual assistance be used instead of FaceTime?

As briefly described above, some providers or device retailers may be tempted to rely on free tools like FaceTime to connect or communicate with customers using at-home medical devices. FaceTime, Zoom, and others are ubiquitous, and even cohorts that are less acquainted with digital platforms may have heard of them.

But their use comes with privacy risks and practical limitations. Most of these platforms do not benefit from robust data protection measures or end-to-end encryption capabilities. They also perform unsteadily in low-bandwidth conditions, making them unsuitable for situations where a patient support worker needs a clear visual picture of the problem a patient or their caregiver is facing.

By contrast, there are several more benefits aside from the ones discussed above to using SightCall over a free tool:

In the case studies below, you can explore several companies’ approaches to the use of AR-powered visual assistance for medical device management.

Case Study 1: Apria’s care is uninterrupted, despite a global pandemic

Apria Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of home respiratory services and medical equipment including oxygen therapy, inhalation therapies, sleep apnea treatment, and negative pressure wound therapy. It operates more than 290 service locations throughout the U.S. and serves more than 2 million patients every year.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people with respiratory conditions who already relied on regular care and functional medical equipment were now also incredibly vulnerable to complications of the virus. This made it critical for Apria to find a way to support its patients remotely – without entering their homes.

In addition to regular patient check-ins, its respiratory therapist role also includes assisting patients with the setup and troubleshooting of equipment such as CPAP machines and ventilators. Previously, these had been installed and checked during in-person visits.

Legislation passed during the pandemic allowed for healthcare providers to use video calling software like WhatsApp and FaceTime for a period of time. But these generic video calling platforms were not sustainable in the long term due to HIPAA and a lack of features beyond basic video.

The right solution would support its existing workflow, as well as allow access from any device with full HIPAA compliance. It would eliminate barriers for therapists and patients using different mobile devices or, in some cases, home computers. The platform the company embraced also needed to integrate with the client’s existing systems, including multiple legacy applications with Salesforce Cloud.

Apria was able to quickly deploy SightCall for Salesforce, and onboard a group of respiratory therapists to help patients set up and monitor their respiratory machines at home. This ensured their care continued without endangering high-risk groups with in-person appointments.

Patients joined a video session from an SMS text message, email link, or WebRTC. SightCall works seamlessly alongside the Aprialink application in Salesforce, allowing the therapists to initiate video sessions directly from the case file with all the patients’ information on hand. They can record data from the call, including machine readings, directly back into the file.

During a SightCall session, the clinical and logistics staff use tools like AR annotations to illustrate steps needed to set up or troubleshoot the patients’ home devices. Through the use of optical character recognition, respiratory therapists can scan barcodes or labels without manual input, all while communicating directly through reliable live video.

Since deploying SightCall, feedback from both the respiratory therapists and patients has been overwhelmingly positive. Patients have enjoyed getting to interact with their therapists regularly, increasing trust and satisfaction. Supporting them to set up and monitor equipment at home reduces delays or issues that could have serious clinical consequences.

Case Study 2: Healthier dialysis patients with B. Braun’s virtual assistance

B. Braun is a German medical and pharmaceutical device company and leader in infusion therapy and pain management. The company develops, manufactures, and markets innovative medical products and services to the healthcare industry. B.Braun has more than 63,000 employees globally and operates in more than 60 countries.

Around 80,000 people in Germany currently depend on dialysis due to kidney failure. Patients must undergo lengthy treatments at least three times a week, in centers that can be far from home. This type of treatment complicates the life of the patient. It also takes away from their ability to work and spend time with family. And while home therapies are an option, few patients use them in practice, apprehensive about operating the medical machinery without the help of medical professionals.

To respond to these concerns, B.Braun developed a new home service that empowers patients to receive kidney therapy from the comfort of their homes. Patients receive a tablet pre-loaded with SightCall visual assistance integrated into Salesforce Lightning.

With a single click, they can reach a medical provider with immediate access to the patient's Salesforce case history. The provider uses SightCall to see the patient's problem and guide them remotely through treatment.

Patients who dialysate themselves achieve better treatment results, have fewer complications, and appear overall healthier, physically and mentally.

In addition, successful home dialysis not only offers benefits to the well-being of the patient but also brings economic benefits and relieves our health system.

Case Study 3: Major hospital expands patient reach with AR-powered telehealth

Augmented reality can also benefit healthcare systems aiming to reach underserved or distant patients.

For instance, a major urban hospital network features two teaching hospitals with 4,000 employees and 625 medical staff. Among all its facilities, it averages more than 3,000 births and 80,000 emergency department visits annually. Additionally, its online patient portals hold more than 30,000 individual accounts, and the network is particularly committed to harnessing the latest technology to engage and care for vulnerable patient groups throughout the region. 

Administrators had wanted to launch telehealth and virtual physician visits for several years but felt unsuccessful in realizing an effective and fully-integrated system all parties were on board with using.

Previously, the hospital network tried several different platforms to manage its care advice line, along with the limited number of telemedicine calls they facilitated monthly. With each, it encountered complicated training and licensing systems and little to no integration with its Salesforce CRM software and online patient accounts.

Some medical staff were also resistant to taking bigger steps toward virtual visits, acknowledging additional digitization as a strong idea in theory, but having not seen anything that convinced them it was a platform to transform patient care.

These factors worked against a larger rollout of remote solutions. The client’s patient advice line fielded a few hundred calls a week, while telehealth calls hovered around 80 a month. Meanwhile, its long-term vision of strategically employing digital data to reach vulnerable patients and address health disparities in the region was restricted by the limited tracking systems of the platforms it used. 

Embracing augmented reality-powered visual assistance, the hospital network was drawn to the seamless integration with its existing Salesforce Health Cloud system. The network’s IT specialists valued the ability to go live with nearly unlimited numbers of users in minimal time, as well as upscale call capacity at short notice. 

Physicians and nurses appreciated the platform was device-agnostic, with high-definition picture quality and low-bandwidth requirements. With AR, they could guide patients through solutions to problems in real-time, using tools like annotation, screen sharing, and remote activation of the patient’s smartphone light. 

A live telehealth visit could take place at the same time the Salesforce patient portal was being navigated, without any interruption or screen changes. This meant the written patient assessment could be completed or in-person visits could be scheduled simultaneously with the virtual appointment. Alternatively, data could be extracted from the call and fed back to the Salesforce platform, with no manual entry required, using optical character recognition.

In fact, the hospital’s adoption of augmented reality tools took hold just in time for the onset of COVID-19 in spring 2020. When the pandemic hit the Midwest, the network established a dynamic command center in a single day. An average of 80 telehealth calls a month exploded to 18,000 calls in April 2020 alone.

Create easier, faster and safer care experiences

The use of AR-powered visual support allows patients to become more confident participants in the care that keeps them healthy and safe – whenever and wherever they are.

SightCall’s enterprise-grade visual support platform harnesses the power of AR to allow both patients and the support workers who serve them to operate at maximum, regardless of their experience levels with a device or expertise. To learn more about this level of healthcare transformation, request a SightCall demo.

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