Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are popular buzzwords, but the fact is they’re excellent tools that are predicted to generate $2.54 billion in healthcare globally by 2020. In healthcare marketing, they are also growing in popularity. Yet, many healthcare marketing professionals may be stumped how to use these tools to their advantage. Here are some inspiring ways that AR and VR are being used already and how healthcare marketers can use these to attract new patients, staff, and promote their facilities.
In April of 2016, Dr. Shafi Ahmed of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London performed an operation that was streamed live using a virtual reality headset. The surgery was only a couple hours long and performed on a British man in his 70’s with colon cancer. Virtual reality surgery means that the watcher isn’t just looking at a video – they are living the procedure through the perspective of the surgeon. Live streaming medical procedures in an exceptional training experience, and a fantastic way to connect one of the highest-quality training aids ever created to medical staff who may be far away or have little experience with rare procedures.
Dr. Ahmed is mainly interested in VR as an educational tool, but beyond that, live AR broadcasts can extend to healthcare marketing. Live virtual operations can help familiarize the public with common procedures, help people learn how to do first aid, help facilitate public health campaigns to teach people how to perform emergency care for strokes, heart attacks, and allergic reactions, and aid in teaching the public how to correctly screen themselves for diseases like breast cancer. Additionally, it can serve as excellent healthcare marketing for clinics and hospitals across the globe, attracting patients that want similar services or who were impressed by the surgeon. As the healthcare industry gets increasingly involved in preventive medicine and wellness, the live AR broadcasting of medical procedures as a healthcare marketing initiative is bound to increase. This could provide welcome funding increases to hospitals that are already strained with budget cuts and lower reimbursement rates and an excellent use of online media to attract visitors to a facility’s website.
Customers are doing research. It’s a trend that is having a profound effect on every industry, and the healthcare industry is no exception. 72% of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year, with 47% searching for information about doctors or other health professionals and 38% searching for information about hospitals and other medical facilities. The most common research topics are specific diseases or conditions, treatments or procedures, and doctors or other health professionals.
AR and VR thus have a perfect opportunity to be utilized for educating patients – delivering the information they want most in a way that helps them understand the full scope of the problem they are researching. Instead of panicked half-understood articles from WebMD, patients will be able to see their medical conditions, or the medical condition they are worried they have, displayed in a way that makes sense. One of the ways this is already being done is providing simulations of medical issues and solutions via AR. One company called EyeDecide allows patients to see simulations of their own medical issues like cataracts or AMD, adding a whole new level of understanding and integration with the medical procedures.
While this technology is being mostly used in a patient-doctor setting, it’s only a few steps away from being used in the home to understand medical issues, providing an amazing opportunity for those in healthcare marketing to give patients the information that they are seeking in a way that doesn’t involve eight hours of Googling and headaches over confusing medical terms. It would be an excellent way to attract patients to facilities’ websites and to attract more patients to specialty doctors.
One of the most powerful healthcare marketing tactics coming into play is the ability to use AR and VR to project the possible future. It sounds like science fiction, and it probably looks like it too, but it’s reality. By using augmented reality to project the effects of age, diet, exercise, disease, medicines, or surgical procedures onto someone’s body, healthcare marketers can let consumers see themselves in a possible future. Augmented reality allows patients not only to know the effects of treatment or disease, but fully and realistically see those impacts on their own body. This eliminates the dissonance that occurs upon seeing a mannequin, diagram, or even example photo and trying to imagine the same on one’s own body.
Few things are more powerful than seeing your own physical form change. Even looking back at old photos of us can be nostalgic. Imagine being able to see what you would look like if you started lifting weights five days a week and cut out carbs. With AR, we may be able to very soon. One of the most effective marketing tactics that healthcare marketing can do with AR or VR is to show people what changes they could expect to see if they lose or gain weight, start or stop exercising, progress through cancer treatments, and more.
The possibilities are endless and healthcare marketing professionals will be able to attract more patients, nursing staff, and high caliber doctors to their facilities. In a time where all of those are in short supply, VR can provide an excellent healthcare marketing tool that will ensure facilities thrive.