Patient using AR headset

Augmented reality to improve disease management

Each year, the Australian Government, businesses and not-for-profit organisations invest around $30 billion in research and development. Yet the majority of research outcomes and interventions remain inaccessible to the people they were intended to help. To speed successful translation of clinical research into practice, a revolutionary approach is required. Innovative technological resources, namely augmented reality, virtual reality and holographics delivered via smartphone applications (apps), may provide a novel minimal-cost solution. Using a smartphone as a viewing device, augmented reality superimposes digital information so that objects seem to coexist in the same space within the real world. Virtual reality is a completely immersive technology that uses a headset for viewing of content, whilst holographic technology diffracts light into an image that is then projected.

These interactive health technologies, hereafter referred to as ‘iHealth’, could be used as a novel mechanism to deliver research evidence to various populations. Particularly for those who have poor health literacy as digital content such as videos present easy to digest information bypassing requirements for understanding of written information. Placing clinical guidelines directly into the hands of the consumer, in a format that is easy to understand, may empower them to better manage their own medical treatment improving the care they receive and ultimately improving overall health and wellbeing. It can also increase level of engagement in content, improve geographic reach and accessibility of information, and allows for real-time updates of content as new information becomes available, providing a potentially cost-effective means of addressing the evidence to practice gap.

Examples of current research projects

South Australia has the highest rate of asthma-related hospital admission and death compared to any other state and territory. Despite the availability of internationally accepted guidelines for asthma management, only 20% of people with asthma have a written action plan. Recent Australian studies have identified that 90% of people with asthma do not use their medication or devices correctly and 70% of asthma deaths are preventable. Asthma is more common among Aboriginal Australians, and they are more likely to die as a result of asthma. To aid translation of the latest clinical evidence directly into the hands of consumers, a new pathway using augmented reality technology, delivered via a smartphone application, may provide a novel minimal-cost solution. Consumer education to support self-management may reduce these variations seen in clinical practice and improve health outcomes among vulnerable groups within our state.

Cardiorespiratory diseases are the largest contributor to the health gap between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians, yet the majority are preventable and treatable. Barriers for effective treatment are well known (e.g., poor communication, poor health literacy and access difficulties), but an elegant solution is yet to be established. Interactive technological resources delivered via iHealth may provide an innovative, sustainable and scalable solution by empowering people to self-manage their own health. Despite these potential benefits, interventions using these technologies for health are virtually non-existent. Thus, our project aims to establish a foundation for iHealth to aid evidence translation that will also provide capacity building opportunities for future studies across many disciplines. We will achieve this through evaluating iHealth technology as a delivery vehicle for culturally-tailored lay descriptions of best-practice evidence-based cardiopulmonary management guidelines that will empower Aboriginal people.

Airway clearance is a significant element of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) care across the age spectrum to assist the clearance of airway secretions in people with CF. There are many devices and techniques used for airway clearance in the context of CF, which fall into three categories: positive expiratory pressure devices (PEP), airway oscillating devices (AOD) and high frequency chest compressions (HFCC)/mechanical percussion (MP) devices. However, research has shown that adults with CF and caregivers of children with CF frequently misunderstand treatment recommendations that affect treatment adherence, and subsequently result in poor disease outcomes. Poor adherence to best-practice care increases treatment burden through avoidable suffering for the patient and excess costs to the health system. Thus, an innovative solution is needed to reduce treatment burden, which has been identified as a priority area by the CF community. To address misunderstandings resulting in poor treatment adherence, novel technology in the form of augmented reality will be used as an innovative and engaging translation mechanism for delivery of evidence-based instructions for airway clearance techniques and devices in CF management.