The use of smartphones and tablet devices in health care has generated much interest recently, with a rise in related apps changing the way that patients and health care professionals interact. Increasing numbers of healthcare professionals are using these technologies in the workplace, as well as large numbers of consumers, who are now more connected than ever to such apps that can help diagnose and improve symptoms, as well as boost drug compliance.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that the healthcare industry is harnessing technology to interact, educate and even treat patients, as well as using it behind the scenes for HCP training and R&D, to create new drugs and therapies.

At the forefront of healthcare apps are those that utilise artificial intelligence (AI), a technology that is capable of digesting huge volumes of data quicker and more efficiently than humans. AI offers numerous benefits, from undertaking repetitive jobs and processing data, to offering patients digital consultations through available apps such as Babylon, Ask NHS (Sensely), and VirtTuri.
However, technology is marching on and today, Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Realities (collectively known as VR); and gamification are the hottest areas of technological progress within healthcare, and are increasingly being integrated with machine learning apps. Why? Because the power they command in providing immersive simulation, delivers superior education and training solutions. Put simply, VR and gamification enhance the visual experiences of AI apps, aiding learning and ultimately, leading to improved health outcomes.

Early research suggests that the use of VR technology within healthcare apps could provide the optimal user experience in terms of engagement, recall and understanding. The impact of this could be substantial costs savings, efficient use of already stretched healthcare resources and ultimately, significantly improved patient healthcare outcomes.

AI apps integrated with VR can provide training simulations for health care professionals, educating them about a product and treatment values in a truly immersive way. The HoloHuman app, for example, a collaborative project between Pearson and Microsoft, uses holograms of patients to train nurses as a part of their new curriculum. Patients can also be taught positive behaviour through virtual action, which can automate the training process, and free up valuable HCP resources.

Immersive patient gamification, where immersive games are used to teach patients about their condition and the actions needed to have the best possible recovery, can influence and change behaviour, improve the adherence of drugs and even help ensure that medication is administered correctly. Therapeutic apps, which harness both AI and VR, can help ease pain, phobias and mental health issues - Bravemind is one such application which combines the technologies in its innovative PTSD exposure therapy system. Other apps promote healthier lifestyles, such as the Guided Meditation VR application, which encourages you to relax through guided meditation sessions.

These technologies empower users to take charge of their own health and promote healthy lifestyles and positive behaviour, which in turn can prevent illness, as well as speed up recovery and reduce length of stay in hospitals.

These innovations, especially the trend of gamification, are particularly pertinent in apps designed for children's medical solutions – who often focus on the short-term negatives (e.g. a bad tasting or unpleasant drug), over the long term benefits to their health. Children nowadays are among the most tech-savvy on the planet, and, whilst it is debatable how much screen time they should have, there are clear benefits to them learning via smart devices. Recent research by University of Suffolk has shown that gamification and AR can make a substantially positive difference in the learning experience over traditional educational methods. It is simple to understand why: gamification, AR and VR make something potentially unpleasant, fun.

As innovation continues, applications will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing healthcare climate. Those which have been developed with AR, VR and gamification have already started to change the way patients think about healthcare and channels of communication with HCPs, as well as influencing their own behaviour towards healthier lifestyles.

Hayden Allen-Vercoe is COO of Orbital Media,