3 reasons why augmented reality is an effective therapeutic tool
Augmented reality, as a technology just starting to impact mainstream life, has opened up a lot of possibilities in many industries. For healthcare, BCC insights predicts the NA market for mobile-based augmented reality to be $1.24B by 2020 and Goldman Sachs puts the total AR/VR market at $80B by 2025. But these stats don’t give much insight into why AR is better than current practices to serve markets like healthcare. We use AR for therapeutic benefit: child life specialists use it to distract and engage patients in a positive way; occupational therapists use it to help patients work on fine motor skills (finger, hand movement); physical therapists use it to encourage gross motor movement (arm, torso, leg movement). So why is AR so great as a therapeutic tool?
1. AR is captivating AND motivational
Because AR combines physical and digital, it has the power to give the physical world abilities and attributes that are not normally possible. Feeling like you can impact objects around you in ‘magical’ ways is empowering, giving a sense of "superhero-ism". This helps kids achieve what they thought was impossible (or at least very, very difficult). For some kids, this may simply be raising their arm or touching a very small target with their finger. But the feeling of achievement and accomplishment they get helps them power through the physical and mental challenges of recovery.
2. AR is immersive, but not too immersive
Because the real world is still visible, AR can be safer in the hospital environment, where patients may need to be reminded of obstacles and physical limitations (IV connections, etc). Patients also need to be able to effectively interact with their therapists: to hear them and see them to in order to fully understand what the therapist wants them to do. AR allows the focus to be shifted between real and digital without leaving the virtual experience.
3. AR is visceral
Despite the coolness and high-engagement level of digital experiences, humans are still emotionally attached to the physical. Children who spend time in hospitals have to adjust to a new normalcy, and having familiar, comforting items around them is an essential coping mechanism. Something as simple as holding a book or a stuffed animal can bring a sense of safety that no virtual world can replicate. AR lets the physical shine through and integrates that tactile nature into the experience, filling normal kid needs and encouraging normal kid emotions.
Mobile augmented reality is highly accessible and can be used anytime, anywhere on devices that are familiar and trusted. It's portability, immersiveness, and truly multi-sensory nature make it a logical fit for hospital therapeutic use. But beyond that, AR is fun. It is the perfect fit to use with children who still want to escape into worlds of imagination even if they are in hospital.
 G. Sinha. “Virtual and Augmented Reality: Technologies and Global Markets.” BCC Research. BCC Library. March 2016.