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What is the potential for immersive technology in healthcare?

Written by: Pete Waddingham - 20th January 2021

In this blog, Pete Waddingham reflects on our recent Health Innovation Exchange event on ‘Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality and its application to healthcare in the NHS’.

I’d like to start by thanking everyone (both speakers and delegates) who took part in this event which was our first foray into the world of immersive technology. Almost 180 people registered for our webinar and nearly 120 of those delegates joined us on the day. In the context of our current testing times this is an achievement I am proud of and one which I hope shows the level of interest in and current relevance of this topic.

Before I go on to talk about some of the highlights of the event, I think it would be a good idea to define what we mean by ‘immersive technology’ for those readers who are uninitiated. Here’s a definition that I found on the internet that I think sums it up nicely:

“Immersive technology mixes virtual (artificial) experiences with users’ own sight, sound, and even touch. In the context of technology, ‘immersive’ refers to any technologies that digitally extend or replace reality for the user. (Virtual Reality) completely replaces a user’s surroundings with a digital environment using a headset, (Augmented Reality) creates an immersive experience for users by fusing real world with the virtual using a digital device, such as a smartphone, users are able to see, hear, and/or interact with virtual assets. Like AR, mixed reality relies on computer vision technology to accurately place the digital elements according to the user’s environment.”

For this blog, I thought it might be helpful to do three key things:

  1. summarise the event for those who could not attend
  2. share learning and outcomes
  3. think about possible next steps

The event was opened by Professor Shafi Ahmed, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust. Shafi was able to really give a flavour of the breadth of immersive technology, his work in this field, and excite people about the future. To know that it is becoming more possible than ever to harness the skills of health professionals, like those working in the field of surgery, no matter where they are in the world has promising prospects. As Shafi said himself:

“I think this is an important topic now. It’s so relevant. A year ago I would have thought that we were struggling with the future of immersive tech but the COVID pandemic has really shown us the benefits of remote working and now this whole world of immersive technology. And it’s taken off. Over the last eight months I’ve been inundated with requests about how to best utilise this kind of platform for both education and clinical practice.”

Dr Andrew Lewington, Consultant Renal Physician and Honorary Associate Professor, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust followed Shafi with a great presentation on the lessons learnt from their work using the Microsoft HoloLens (mixed reality headset) for training. Andrew shared tips with the audience on practical areas of adoption that was very beneficial. Infection control, Information Governance and IT infrastructure have all been worked through at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and that learning, I am sure, was useful for many others.

Mr Ryan Mathew, Consultant Neurosurgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, gave a call to action for collaboration with the Centre for Immersive Technology and that set things up nicely for our virtual breakout rooms where we gave delegates the chance to hear about the great work that is already happening and indeed, begin to collaborate and network.

The breakout rooms covered five areas: rehabilitation, patient education, technology and creative industries and workforce and training. I helped facilitate the technology and creative industries session. My take home messages were:

  • the technology is mind-blowing
  • the image resolution is crystal clear and of a photographic quality
  • immersive reality does not have to be delivered just through headsets
  • it can really help those with disabilities
  • there are some creative industries on our Yorkshire doorstep already working with global partners on immersive experiences, for example bringing to life health patient education on disease and management.

Following the breakout rooms, we had our final guest speakers. Catherine Allen – CEO at Limina Immersive – talked about some of the barriers to adoption, including the higher ratio of males using this technology compared to females.

Catherine also discussed how we can diversify audiences by the marketing materials that are used. Consideration also needs to be given to users who are anxious about using technology.

Richard Price, Learning Technologies Advisor at Health Education England (HEE) was able to highlight the role that HEE is playing in immersive technology, with some resources available to health systems. I am sure many people will be connecting with Richard following the event.

Finally, Dr Dave Wright, Consultant Anaesthetist and Deputy Director of Simulation, gave an overview of the work being conducted by the Hull Institute of Learning and Simulation, their early work on establishing a VR network, and the challenges in identifying projects to focus on, in an area with widespread possibilities.

At the end of the meeting, several participants stayed on to test a VR workspace using It was great to see people interacting in the space, testing 3D objects and bringing in documents to read and review. The platform has some nice features, including access via the web and app for those that do not have a VR headset.

For me, the key learning and reflections from the event are:

  • Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality need to be considered tools within the whole ‘immersive technology’ space – they all have positive applications and barriers, and we should not be tied to just one area (‘immersive technology’ may be a better term to use to ensure people don’t just think of headsets but a more widespread uses)
  • Technology is getting cheaper, more flexible and is also fast-changing – boundaries are being broken in this field – and it is important to try and keep up with market trends
  • There are already excellent examples of immersive technology being applied in health, both in training and development and in direct patient care – we should put emphasis on ensuring we continue to learn from innovators who are applying this technology

There are some obvious next steps that we intend to pursue:

  1. Continue to map the applications / organisations involved in immersive technology across the region (and wider as necessary)
  2. Potentially develop a directory / marketplace (one of the companies involved in the event would like to help in this area)
  3. Ensure any immersive technology health networks connect and raise awareness of their work with one another – creating a network of networks
  4. Digest the feedback from the event and determine if there are any strong areas of interest to take forward e.g. spread and adoption of work on rehabilitation / mental health etc.
  5. Identify opportunities for external funding e.g. Innovate UK / internal resources (e.g. Health Education England)

The interest and appetite in immersive tech seems to be strong with networks already starting to be established following the event and positive feedback about all the speakers. We would love to secure your help in keeping up momentum in this innovative area.

  • If you would like to talk to us about collaborating in the immersive technology push for our region please email us at
  • If you weren’t able to attend the event you can watch the session recordings below or go to our You Tube channel.
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