How Extended Reality (XR) is Transforming Healthcare

From immersive education and surgical procedures to alternative forms of treatment, use cases for Extended Reality (XR) technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality have begun to transform the healthcare industry. Investments in patient engagement, a greater focus on treatment ‘beyond the pill’, and a post-pandemic shift to virtual healthcare have all increased market demand for advanced tools like XR technologies to reimagine both the patient and healthcare provider journeys. The potential for market growth is undeniable; in 2020, the global healthcare XR market reached a revenue of more than $2B, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 35% to nearly $4B by the end of 2030. This represents a massive opportunity for health-focused organizations, such as life sciences and medical device companies, health systems, startups, and others, to collaborate on XR healthcare innovation to help providers deliver a higher standard of care and ultimately improve patient outcomes.


Extended reality is an all-encompassing term that covers all technology-enhanced environments that either combine the physical and virtual worlds or immerse a user completely in a virtual experience. Enabled by either wearable devices or other computer technology, the following technologies fall under the umbrella of XR, as well as future technologies that might be created:

  • Virtual Reality (VR) – The user is completely immersed in a digital environment as if they are truly there via a wearable VR headset or HMD (head-mounted display). VR experiences can be designed for individuals or for groups to be in the same environment together.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) – Digital content is overlaid on top of a user’s physical environment in real-time via smartphone applications or a wearable glass device. Typically, this content is text, images, or video, and it aims to provide an additional layer of information about the real world.
  • Mixed Reality (MR) – Similar to AR, MR presents an overlay of digital content via transparent wearable glasses, but MR additionally enables virtual objects to integrate and respond to the natural world in real-time. Current leading technologies include the Microsoft HoloLens (1 and 2) and Magic Leap, both of which allow for hand-tracking.

Due to the benefits and nuances of each XR technology, the subsets of XR have their own applications within the healthcare ecosystem.

Image credit: Lenets_Tan/ Adobe Stock

Use Cases of XR as Healthcare Technology

XR is a transformative, enabling technology that can be harnessed to develop innovative products across healthcare, and it is already improving experiences for patients and providers across the healthcare continuum. Here are four XR use cases that the healthcare industry is actively embracing.

1 – Medical Education and Training

XR offers an unprecedented medium to enhance the student learning experience across disciplines. At universities such as Stanford University School of Medicine and NYU Grossman School of Medicine, medical and nursing students can learn through immersive VR simulations where they interact with virtual anatomical and physiological visualizations. From a training perspective, physicians, nurses, and other providers can use XR to train in medical procedures and patient interaction through simulation-based learning. Lifelike patient simulations allow providers to meet a patient in the emergency department, collect their history, conduct diagnostics, analyze results, and treat. Patient simulations can even become agitated or physically unwell, allowing the provider to practice decision-making in realistic, stressful scenarios. By immersing providers in hyper-realistic VR simulations, providers have a minimal risk environment to intentionally practice challenging scenarios and gain hands-on, diverse experience.

Giving students and providers digital access to clinical experiences eliminates multiple barriers to learning. Space, time, faculty, and resource requirements such as cadavers no longer need to disrupt education. These benefits are especially important in a post-COVID-19 world where virtual learning is normalized and equity of access to quality medical training is critical.

2- Surgical Pre-Operative Planning and Visualization

XR technologies are gaining acceptance and finding applications in different fields of surgery as early solutions are being developed and piloted by surgeons globally. Using 3D reconstructions of CT and MRI medical scans, surgeons can use XR to conduct pre-operative planning more effectively. This allows surgeons to better understand how to navigate a patient’s complex, unique anatomy, optimize patient positioning for the procedure, and develop a thorough surgical plan to ultimately improve surgical outcomes for patients.

Additionally, surgeons can leverage MR during procedures to augment their vision by overlaying reconstructed models of a patient’s anatomy and the planned trajectories over the surgical field, resulting in increased surgical efficiency and precision. This application is truly cutting-edge as just last year, Johns Hopkins performed its first AR surgery in live patients.

For especially challenging operations, surgeons can participate in AR-enabled tele-mentoring to share a real-time view of the surgical field with an off-site team member. Whether a junior surgeon needs remote assistance and guidance during a live operation, or an experienced surgeon is live streaming their procedure, XR technology can eliminate the need for surgical peers to be onsite. The availability of this innovation will increase access to care across the nation, enabling rural areas with less specialists to receive appropriate collaboration from other healthcare centers during procedures.

3 – Diagnostics and Treatment

Therapeutic virtual reality has emerged as a clinically proven solution to treat a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, including PTSD, specific phobia, autism, and dementia. By combining VR with cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches, studies are finding that these experiences can improve mental state, social functioning, and overall rehabilitation for patients with these disorders.

Research studies also show that the use of VR for pain management significantly reduces pain in the acute inpatient setting and for at-home chronic pain prescription treatment, demonstrating VR as an effective alternative to prescription opioids.

On the other end of the patient journey, XR technologies are also being explored as a diagnostic tool for neurological diseases and mental health conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, psychiatric disorders, and brain trauma. Ongoing research in this space is exploring the potential benefits for using XR for diagnostics, including being a cheaper alternative to neuroimaging, reducing difficulty of diagnosing such disorders, and improving early detection before worsening of the condition can occur.

4 – Patient Education and Awareness

The role of XR in education and healthcare is dominant in the training of healthcare professionals, but the application of XR in patient education is just as promising. As an audiovisual tool that enhances learning and understanding, XR has been demonstrated to improve patient medical literacy, not only in preparation for treatment but also in preventative healthcare. XR does this by providing engaging educational content developed for patients, aiming to improve patient knowledge of a process or condition. For example, XR-enabled educational tools can help a surgeon explain their surgical plan to a patient or teach patients the proper use of medical products. To describe a use case that is already in the market – BehaVR has developed a maternal health and wellness program called NurtureVR that provides education, training, and coping sessions throughout pregnancy, labor, and early motherhood.

Compared to traditional literature such as pamphlets or websites, educational materials displayed through XR technologies are more effective because they allow patients to engage with the material. By visualizing what is happening or will happen to them, patients are empowered to prepare themselves and make positive behavioral or mental changes. This has been shown in clinical studies where XR-enabled education was linked to improved patient outcomes, including reduction in preoperative anxiety and an increase in adherence with treatment plans.

XR Collaboration at Work in Healthcare: Medivis and 11TEN

11TEN has partnered with Medivis, a leader in AR, that has a mission to use advancements in AR and computer vision to create a holographic future for surgery. 11TEN is partnering with Medivis to further explore both medical education and surgical visualization use cases using AR/MR technologies.

One of our shared goals is to run these MR programs on a 5G network. 5G empowers greater healthcare connectivity for Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices, enabling healthcare providers to remotely collaborate from anywhere. For Medivis, this will mean that a surgical team can share surgeries in real-time with specialists, without those specialists having to be present in the operating room.

Realize the Potential of XR Healthcare Technology for Your Organization

It is exciting to imagine the opportunities to apply emergent technologies like extended reality to the world of healthcare to help transform patient and healthcare provider experiences, but it can be complex for organizations who do not know where to begin. Whether you are looking to define, develop, validate, or implement healthcare technology, 11TEN Innovation Partners is prepared to offer the expertise and support needed to help your organization execute upon its vision. Our end-to-end product capabilities and our partnerships across the healthcare innovation ecosystem can help drive your innovation roadmap every step along the way. 

Learn more about our solutions to support your XR journey, and contact our team today to turn the opportunity for extended reality into healthcare reality.