Staff shortages and overwork among caregivers have been among the most pressing challenges in healthcare in many Western countries for years. Technologies, such as augmented reality glasses, can help improve the work situation in care facilities. Four scenarios for the nursing of the future:
A look back at 2017: a trainee’s description of working conditions in German care facilities during a TV debate on the upcoming Bundestag elections put the so-called “care crisis” at the center of public awareness .
Almost four years later, the situation in nursing facilities has hardly eased. Especially in the wake of the Corona pandemic, nursing staff are facing new challenges. In addition to high deadline and performance pressure in the daily care of patients, long periods of standing as well as lifting and carrying heavy loads make for high physical and mental stress . The result: increased absenteeism due to illness, which increases the pressure on the system.
One way to relieve caregivers of daily workloads is through the use of digital technologies. Augmented reality (AR) applications in particular offer great potential due to their versatility.
Why Augmented Reality?
The key advantage of AR glasses is that users can access relevant information without having to interrupt their current work. Similar to the industrial environment, where AR glasses are primarily used in assembly, maintenance and repair, they could also support employees in the care sector in caring for their patients by displaying the necessary data in the caregiver’s field of vision via hologram while the caregiver’s hands remain free.
Possible application scenarios
In order to identify meaningful fields of application for AR technology in the nursing context, the processes of the employees there must be closely examined and analyzed. This results in various use cases in which AR technology can be used to relieve the workload in nursing:
1. Automated performance documentation
Accordingly, the written documentation of the services provided represents a high additional burden for the nursing staff – especially if this means that the direct work with the patient has to be interrupted again and again. Against this background, AR glasses could have a supporting effect by independently recognizing patients and services provided and automatically documenting them in the background. On the one hand, this could greatly reduce the amount of time spent documenting services. On the other hand, the social interaction between nurse and patient is improved by reducing the administrative effort during care.
2. Internal information dissemination
In order to ensure optimal patient care even in the event of staff changes, the transfer of information between shifts is essential. The quick creation of notes via virtual keyboard or voice input enables prompt documentation and prevents the loss of information. The notes created are then automatically saved in the correct document in the patient file. In this way, nursing documentation can also be easily expanded. A patient profile, which then contains the most important and current information from the patient file as well as the next upcoming tasks, thus simplifies shift preparation.
3. Symptoms documentation
In order to obtain an additional quick overview of the patient’s physical complaints, regions on the patient’s body can also be marked without contact and provided with notes. These markings can be retrieved by the follow-up shift or the attending physician. To document wounds, in addition to measuring length, width, depth, area and volume, it will be possible to create a 3D model of the wound. This model can then be displayed next to the wound at a later time to enable better comparison of wound development.
4. Warning assistant in hazardous situations
In addition, AR glasses can provide assistance in the sense of a warning assistant for both routine tasks and medical emergencies. For example, when administering medication, smart glasses can work through the medication schedule together with the nurse and automatically check whether the correct type and number of tablets are being placed in the medication box. In emergency situations, AR can be used to detect seizures, display first aid measures, and automatically make an emergency call. This benefits both caregivers and patients.
Conclusion & Outlook
Currently, the widespread use of AR glasses is limited by the hardware, as many of the current models, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, are still too bulky for use in the physical everyday care environment. In addition, the digitization of data is lagging behind in many facilities in the care environment, which reduces the added value of AR glasses. Where the appropriate framework conditions are in place, AR applications offer immense potential for relieving the burden of routine tasks in care, which can increase “time with the patient,” relieve the burden on employees, and increase quality in care facilities.
 Tagesschau (2017). ARD-Wahlarena: Fragen an Merkel zur Pflege. YouTube, published 12.09.2017, ARD-Wahlarena: Frage an Merkel zur Pflege – YouTube, called 01.12.2020
 Bundesgesundheitsministerium (2017). Gesundheitsförderung für Pflegekräfte: Wer pflegt die Pflege? 10.0.1_Service_Material.pdf (bundesgesundheitsministerium.de), called 01.12.2020
Author: Michelle Schlicher, iteratec GmbH