Eric is working on ensuring that the new technology is up to the task.
He says issues around precision of information, privacy of patients and quality of virtual reality experiences mean that work still has to be done to incorporate virtual reality with telemedicine.
“There are a few key challenges in this area,” Eric says. “Building a prototype is not that difficult, but to commercialise it you need to address these issues. The clinical part is the most important part of this process, so you need to develop a way to protect the privacy of the patient. There is also the challenge of calculating depth information and using a 3D model to replace the goggles, as well as the challenge of the transmission of the data.”
One key obstacle to incorporating virtual reality technology into medicine is the hardware itself. Virtual reality goggles cover much of the user’s face, which could make doctor-patient interactions awkward. Eric hopes that creating an immersive experience for both the doctor and patient will overcome this challenge.
“With virtual reality, one of the things is to provide a more immersive experience, so it’s like you’re sitting in front of a doctor,” he says. “It’s not really practical at the moment that you see a patient wearing goggles and they see you wearing goggles — it’s not immersive. One of the techniques we’re going to incorporate is to create a dynamic 3D model of the patient so that during a virtual consultation we can use the 3D model to replace the goggles and create a complete look of the patient and it will be a more immersive experience.”
As well as virtual reality, Eric is optimistic that augmented reality can be used in medicine. He already sees applications in using augmented reality for training medical students. He compares it to Pokémon Go, but for surgery.
“In sci-fi movies they have holograms,” he says. “At the moment, we have problems with resolutions and the quality of holograms but we are only at the baby stage of this technology. Using it is a ‘big’ thing now, but as the technology matures it will become ‘normal’."
“Augmented reality will definitely have uses in telemedicine, especially for the education of medical students. You have seen it in sci-fi movies – it’s the future.”
Dr Eric Wang