XR refers to Extended Reality and covers Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Virtual Reality (VR), haptics, interfaces, platforms and software and will often be referred to as immersive technologies within the context of this report. The healthcare sector referred to covers health and social care in public and private services, in clinical and non-clinical settings.
The report has been developed in partnership with NHSX, Health Education England Technology Enhanced Learning Team, UKRI Audience of the Future Challenge, NIHR Mental Health Medtech Cooperative (MindTech) and Rescape. It has been supported by the Sheffield Hallam University Impact VR Research lab and the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI) whose collective support has been critical in making this report happen. The report was also supported by a business donation from Pfizer Limited. The report findings will help government and public health services make informed decisions about future strategies to ensure the UK is in the best position to fully exploit the potential of XR in healthcare today and ultimately improve patient outcomes and the quality of people's lives into the future.
Pfizer Ltd. provided a Business Donation to support the writing of this report and had no editorial input but reviewed the final version for compliance with pharmaceutical regulations.
The time has come for a change of pace. The global face of XR in healthcare is evolving. The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in the use of XR in healthcare as providers are forced to accelerate their digital transformation journeys and adopt novel and innovative solutions to navigate the impact of the pandemic. A unique opportunity presents itself for the UK to lead this expanding market.
AR and VR have been revolutionising the global healthcare market and demonstrating impact, value and efficiencies for some time before the pandemic struck. The predicted growth of the AR healthcare market is expected to generate US$10 billion in revenues, with the VR Healthcare market reaching US$1.2 billion in 2024 (ABI Research Oct 7th, 2020). In the UK use-at-home market, The Times reported in January 2021 that the sales of VR headsets had risen by 350% as those trapped at home seek a safe way to escape the lockdown. At the start of last year, one in 17 UK households had a VR headset at home, according to Ofcom, up from one in 20 in 2018.
There is a nascent but world-class XR innovation emerging in the UK’s healthcare market, as cutting-edge research is undertaken in UK universities and ground-breaking innovation is happening in start-ups and SMEs. In addition, novel collaborations and trials are demonstrating the potential value and cost savings to be gained from the application of XR in healthcare and the impact on and improvement to people’s lives. Despite the market potential for the UK, the evidence generated is not being measured efficiently and the benefits, although becoming clearer, are not being valued to the extent needed to trigger the funding, investment and strategic interventions needed to grow a sustainable and thriving UK XR healthcare sector.
One of the biggest drivers within the NHS is to provide value for money. The health economics in this report emphasises the potential that XR offers in supporting healthcare services to deliver highly effective outcomes in a more cost-effective way. XR can be used to help patients face operations and treatments that they would otherwise avoid, this could lead to £2 million of possible savings per year. Delivering therapies remotely via VR can be 2-3 times cheaper than traditional rehabilitation, cut wait times, improve engagement and reduce the likelihood of symptoms exacerbating. Finally, XR can reduce costs to training, and improve overall surgical performance by as much as 230% versus traditional training methods. This evidence is a fundamental requirement for the health system and it is unlikely any XR solution can be adopted into clinical practice or attract the investment needed to scale without the data to support its effectiveness.
Research and development of XR is hampered by a fragmented ecosystem and the lack of opportunities for cross-sector collaboration. Pockets of innovation sit in industry, isolated from the clinicians or researchers needed to turn ideas into reality. There is, as yet, no marketplace for efficiently distributing XR in healthcare solutions. It is extremely difficult for products or experiences to convert into clinical trials to substantiate the value and impact. It is even harder to get in front of commissioners, procurers or purchasers. Funded and market-ready solutions struggle to find a route to market, as, in order to get onto a procurement platform, XR solutions have to meet standards and assurances which currently are not fit for purpose for the unique applications of XR.
The aim of this report is to outline what we mean by XR in healthcare and how it is being implemented in the UK. It identifies the potential value of XR, explores the evidence that demonstrates its impact on human health and estimates the potential cost savings to the UK healthcare system. The report delves into use cases of XR in healthcare across a number of key application areas, including mental health and wellbeing, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, pain management, healthcare professional clinical skills training and patient education. Our goal is to showcase the people and projects innovating in this space and to demonstrate the potential value XR could bring to clinical and non-clinical settings. The report also highlights the unique collaborations emerging on the clinical front line, bringing clinicians, academics, gaming and XR companies and others together to address real needs within the health system.
More importantly, this report brings together for the first time a snapshot of XR in healthcare in the UK today, outlines the barriers to its growth and makes recommendations that will help government and public health services make informed decisions on future strategies. This will ensure the UK is in the best position to unlock the potential of XR in healthcare and ultimately improve patient outcomes and quality of life.
The report proposes three key recommendations to move XR healthcare in the UK into a world leading position:
- Undertake a comprehensive mapping and analysis of the businesses, healthcare organisations and universities working with XR in healthcare to better understand the UK’s capacity and capabilities, the size and scale of the market, its potential value and future growth.
- Develop collaborative ‘Centres of Excellence’ (CoEs) in healthcare XR to create a development pipeline which enables a clear pathway from concept to investment and scaling to market.Working in partnership, CoEs would facilitate the production of clinically robust, engaging, marketable products to be made available on national platforms for secure purchase to healthcare providers, improving patient experience, quality and value in health intervention. Vitally, CoEs will also act to further develop a body of evidence.
- Establish a representative and impartial alliance network that facilitates the connection of academic institutions, researchers, healthcare providers, clinicians, XR, digital and creative industries in order to support new collaborations, inform, signpost and share insights and expertise.