eTech Insights – Extended Reality (XR) Becoming a Healthcare Solution Reality - Cover

eTech Insights – Extended Reality (XR) Becoming a Healthcare Solution Reality

The Problem: XR Design is Critical

Virtual reality was the initial term used for applications and devices that could provide a user with a virtual 3D experience. One of the first solutions was Google Glass. Google launched this product to the public before investing significant user and market testing. As a result, the market rejected the product because the product perception did not provide the expected user experience. Recent KLAS research on a vendor who uses Google Glass for its voice recognition/NLP solutions identified that physicians readily switched to smartphones instead of maintaining their use of Glass. Physicians found Glass to be nonintuitive, and it required more changes to their workflows for adoption.

Experts at a recent XR event at the University of Washington’s Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering settled on the term extended reality (XR) to describe virtual reality and augmented reality domains.

Below are some key challenges to market success for XR:

  • Communication of interactive affordances: The XR UI must indicate what selections are active and available for interaction.
  • Selection of focus area for interactions: An application, window, or field must be the main focus of the XR UI.
  • Direct manipulation: The XR UI must accommodate hand tracking and full finger articulation to interact with digital data.
  • Intuitive interaction via controllers: The XR solution must have clear mapping between handheld controllers and screen actions.

One of the key challenges for adoption of XR in any industry is the design of the headsets. Headsets are considered clunky and uncomfortable and can cause mental fatigue. While one can imagine wearing a headset to review or practice a surgical procedure, wearing one in front of patients would be awkward.

The Solution: XR Supporting Healthcare Education and Patient Awareness

The aforementioned group at the University of Washington identified healthcare as one of the most promising industries for targeting this technology. In 2016, the Global Augmented and Virtual Reality in Healthcare Market was valued at about $560 million. The market is projected grow at a CAGR of 29.1% from 2014 to 2025.

Key healthcare areas where XR is being focused include pain management, surgical training, patient engagement relative to rehabilitation, mental health therapy, and disease awareness (e.g., experiencing the reality of having Parkinson’s). XR also has potential training application for medical school (e.g., anatomy), residency (e.g., cardiology), and identification of medical errors.

Trauma relief is another key area for XR adoption in healthcare. Cedars-Sinai uses XR to assist patients by minimizing trauma associated with treatments or PTSD. One patient stated that while XR didn’t take the pain away during the treatment process, it made the pain manageable. A Marine veteran with PTSD was able to relive a tragedy experienced in Iraq to understand and cope with stimuli that would normally trigger stress and anxiety.

The potential of XR in healthcare is obvious, and as with any emerging technology, the return on investment is still a work in progress.

The Justification: Surgical and ED Cases Provide Early Insights

The cost justification for XR in healthcare is still in early stages. One study associated the use of XR with reduced length of stay metrics. MedStar uses XR for ED training and considers $700 headsets a more cost-effective solution for this training than a $250,000 high-fidelity training mannequin.

Value creation associated with XR in surgery is identified as training that results in better outcomes that are necessary for value-based care, familiarization with rare cases to improve patient safety and patient outcomes, and early training of surgical students to prevent jeopardized patient outcomes.[8]

The potential of XR to improving healthcare will continue to drive provider organizations to pursue the implementation and use of this technology, which will provide additional justification metrics.

The Players: Dominated by Start-ups

XR in healthcare is still in the early adoption phase and still consists of high-risk solutions. Surgical XR vendors currently represent one of the best opportunities for cost justification. Therefore, the represented list below is dominated by vendors with surgical solutions:

Of these, XRHealth is particularly interesting because they provide a telehealth XR solution to support patient recovery.

Success Factors

  1. Well-defined protype projects using XR for surgical training, pain therapy, or mental health support will help organizations control costs while also providing a more manageable environment for determining cost justification.
  2. Organizations can evaluate the use of XR by organization and service type to identify XR solutions that will likely be successful for them.
  3. Organizations should be cognizant of XR design relative to physician and patient needs for adoption and use to further ensure a successful implementation of XR.


XR solutions in healthcare are well positioned to drive high growth and adoption over the next three to five years. XR design will be the most critical component for successful products. XR design that creates intuitive and focused interactions (what selections are active and available), efficient hand tracking and finger articulation, and clear mapping between controllers and screen actions will likely drive higher levels of physician and patient adoption and satisfaction.

Headset design will also be important. Google Glass provided a design to access XR while also providing the ability to observe the current environment, but it did not provide the expected or desired capabilities. However, in my opinion, the Glass design is more appropriate for physician use in patient care settings versus a full XR headset. Otherwise, physicians with full headsets might resemble robots, and that might not be a good thing when interacting with patients. Danger, Will Robinson!

Photo credit: Adobe Stock, Have a nice day