In February 2023, the European Commission published a report exploring the opportunities, success stories and challenges of Extended Reality (XR) technologies. The report aims to assess the strengths and weaknesses of XR in healthcare and education, the sectors in which XR has already found a variety of applications and consider how the European XR industry is expected evolve. Additionally, it answers questions about the technology’s application, effects, and limitations. It is encouraging to see that the report recognises the value Extended Reality brings to healthcare technology thus bolstering the work done by the Holomedicine® Association.
Summary of the report
The report opens with a broad overview of XR technologies’ application and effects in the healthcare sector thus illustrating its scope and benefits. Healthcare professionals are able to improve the quality and efficiency of their care by applying XR technologies in several phases of their medical practice. The technologies’ visualisation tools can benefit medical training, surgical practices as well as provide more accurate and efficient medical analysis and diagnosis than conventional practices. Moreover, XR can be used by patients and caregivers to treat mental health disorders, assist with physical disabilities, and improve health literacy, pain management, cognitive rehabilitation, and overall wellbeing. It concludes that the wide scope of XR technology application provides more precise patient treatment which saves medical institutions time and resources and enables patients to access effective healthcare services more easily and at a lower cost.
XR does not come without its challenges
The application of XR technology is not without barriers, however. Across sectors, XR technology experiences market-related barriers and technical limitations, including:
- lack of product awareness and acceptance
- financial constraints
- a deficit of skilled XR professionals
The application of XR technology in the health sector experiences certain technical limitations as well, such as:
- low image resolution
- limited language availability
- insufficient ergonomics
- limited processing power and battery life
The success of medical technology hinges on its ability to simulate real-life situations and these technical limitations hinder the simulations’ realism. Finally, the medical sector in particular faces policy barriers that limit the certification and insurance compensation available for XR products.
The report considers the European XR market and its future in relation to its global competitors, primarily based in the US or Asia, using primary and secondary data. They find that despite the European market representing one-third of the global XR market and Europe producing strong research results in the field of XR, the region lags behind in terms of XR technology awareness and demand. This presents challenges for European XR companies working the field of healthcare in terms of scalability, access to investment, and global competitiveness. This discrepancy is further explained through cultural differences between Europe and the US and Europe’s relatively strict regulations.
EC makes recommendations to key players
The report concludes with a number of policy recommendations addressed towards national governments, the European Commission, DG Connect, and healthcare professionals to bolster the European XR technology industry:
- Develop training programmes on the technology’s medical applications by medical professional associations to improve awareness and technical understanding on XR technology, funded through the Erasmus+ programme and integrated into European medical education curricula.
- Development of guidelines on how XR could be integrated into national healthcare strategies.
- Creation of a regulatory policy body focusing on emerging technologies such as XR to address the fragmentation of European healthcare systems hindering cross-border adoption
- Setting up of national and European research tenders for XR technology and the creation of a European venture capital fund dedicated to investments in XR companies to address the shortage in funding for research and innovation.
The Holomedicine® Association is encouraged to see the recognition of Extended Reality in healthcare and supports the recommendations put forward by the European Commission. We hope to see the consideration of this report and its recommendations in the implementation of the European Health Data Space to ensure XR technologies are not left behind when building the future of healthcare!
To read the report, follow this link to the European Union Publication Office.