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“If we can’t make AR-based applications interesting, people won’t be inclined to use it”

Dr. Debi Prosad Dogra, Assistant Professor, School of Electrical Sciences, IIT Bhubhaneshwar, talks to TPCI about the various applications of augmented reality in Indian healthcare sector, and the hurdles in its successful implementation.

TPCI: What are the possible applications of AR in Indian healthcare sector?  What use cases have evolved so far?

Dr. Debi Prosad Dogra: One application is wound detection and management. AR has a direct relation with post-stroke rehabilitation programme. If somebody is having some form of a physical disability due to, say, the impact of cardiac arrest or epilepsy, it is possible to do rehabilitation with the help of AR-guided tools like mobile phones or any camera-based system having an AR interface. We have tried to depict in one of our research papers (2016) how a person with hand disabilities can be assisted using a camera-based system. It’s a kind of gaming application; through gaming application, people can go through a rehabilitation programme. Every time, you do not expect that the expert will be available to you. So, basically, with the doctor’s advice, the patient can go home and practise those things in front of the camera having an AR interface. The system automatically judges the accuracy of that movement and sends a report to the doctor on the patient’s progress.

Another application is inside the operation theatre (OT). I have seen many European countries where the doctors these days try to understand how the organs function during the surgery with the help of AR-enabled equipment.

Thirdly, you can develop AR-based games or mobile phone-based apps. For example, we have developed an app called ‘Pluto AR’, which we have tested on epileptic children studying in Bhubhaneshwar’s Chetna School. With the app, we understood that these kids are interested in more activities that are physical. However, a lot of study needs to be undertaken in order to understand the applications of this.

TPCI: What benefits will using AR technology bring for the sector?

Dr. Debi Prosad Dogra: Firstly, we do not have adequate number of medical experts who can be available round the clock for each patient. So, an AR-based app can help in tackling non-critical cases like rehabilitation & longitudinal studies. The app can generate & send an automatic report on the patient’s health to the physician. This technology will also be low cost since manpower will not be involved in offering the health service. It will also be accessible easily to smartphone users.

TPCI: What are the challenges to adopting AR in Indian healthcare sector?

Dr. Debi Prosad Dogra: There are certain challenges when it comes to the application of AR in Indian healthcare sector. Firstly, who will trust this technology? If you go to a village and tell the patient that the doctor will install a software in your phone to check your condition, people will not believe it. So, building the trust will be a key thing. It’s not like a gaming application – which is very popular and addictive. We call AR-based applications as “serious gaming” because it can be very boring for the common user. If we can’t make this serious gaming interesting, people will not be inclined to use it.

In addition, we need to be careful about the accuracy of using this technology because at the end of the day, we are replacing a human being with a machine. We need to ensure that the standard of treatment is not degraded.

TPCI: What lessons can India draw from its international counterparts already using this technology?

Dr. Debi Prosad Dogra: I have seen a demo where doctors in Europe use AR & VR (virtual based) applications. For example, to understand the functioning of heart during an operation, they have used head-mounted devices and smart display screens. These kinds of products were available in their electronic stores even 10 years ago! I don’t find much application of AR in Indian healthcare. I think that certain applications, which are non-harmful like arm, head, neck & hand rehabilitation will be needed. Many patients have issues like spondylitis, so AR can be used here.

Dr. Debi Prosad Dogra is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology – Bhubaneswar. He completed his PhD in Computer Science & Engineering from IIT Kharagpur (2012); M.Tech. in Computer Science & Engineering from IIT Kanpur (2003); and B.Tech. from Haldia Institute of Technology. His research interests include: Visual Surveillance; Intelligent Transportation Systems; Augmented Reality; Human Computer Interface & Sensor Guided Healthcare Systems.

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