Applications of AR and VR in the Pharma Industry
The augmented and virtual reality industries are growing exponentially, influencing other business sectors, educational spheres, and personal-use products. Quite interestingly, the pharma industry has been quick to jump the bandwagon, using virtual reality to its advantage.
In 2018, the augmented global reality in the healthcare industry was at $609 million, and the figure is forecasted to rise up to $4.23 billion by 2026.
But how exactly is the pharma industry using AR and VR? What is the scope of these technologies in pharmacology, marketing, and pharmaceutical chemistry?
We discuss all these questions below.
Overview of AR and VR in the Pharma Industry
The pharma industry can benefit significantly through augmented and virtual reality in different areas, such as medical training and simulations, marketing, sales support, and patient engagement.
AR/VR enables companies to tell a story about the product and its capabilities. Plus, the technology can be used to demonstrate how a drug works. AR/ VR allows pharmaceutical companies to show 3D visuals of molecules in action to doctors and other healthcare individuals.
More importantly, virtual reality can be used to create virtual patients, so physicians can see how the drug works in a patient.
For instance, Dr. Reddy Laboratories launched a mobile app based on augmented reality that showed the unique features and working mechanism of their cough syrup – Bro-ZeDex – as compared to other companies’ similar products.
AR/VR is also great with marketing. Pharmaceutical companies can create AR/VR videos that take customers inside the brain of people suffering from diseases, helping them understand what these individuals go through every day.
AR and VR will make it possible for healthcare providers and individual patients to interact directly with each other. The technology allows pharmaceutical companies to enhance traditional training methods or improve upon existing education programs using digital technologies.
Another notable advantage of augmented and virtual reality is the provision of safe platforms for drug administration. Owing to virtual technology, medical professionals and patients can practice taking medications without actually administering drugs into their bodies.
Let’s explore some applications of AR and VR in the pharmaceutical industry.
Improvement in HCP Engagement
In the pharma industry, HCP engagement refers to the process of pharma companies interacting with healthcare professionals (HCPs) in order to seek their support for the product or approval of its use.
The HCP can be a general practitioner, an oncologist, or any other physician who is involved in recommending the use of a specific drug for patients.
It requires good relationships between pharma companies and HCPs- usually built through trade shows, symposia, and conferences- as well as strong communication channels that enable these interactions to take place effectively and efficiently.
Furthermore, it often involves claims management and ensuring medical professionals’ compliance with guidelines that have been set out by national associations such as the FDA.
In an interview with Eric Gubera, the executive vice president of the Life Science Practice at ARSENAL ADVISORS, William Garner, the chief creative officer at Tipping Point Media, explained how augmented reality could help pharma executives in HCP engagement.
He said. ‘’There are two ways of going about it. I mean, there’s the in-person aspect of it, and then there’s the virtual aspect where all these tools are relevant inside of that. Everything from virtual reality to augmented reality.’’
He further explained how augmented reality allows pharma reps to showcase anything to healthcare providers without even downloading an app or purchasing special headsets.
He went on to say, ‘’And that’s what’s amazing about these new tools, is we can build anything. You know, it’s a world in and of itself that can be created.
And there’s the real true benefit is the dissemination of it. We have the ability to not only do it in virtual reality, we can do it on mobile devices, but iPads, iPhones, Android, and also do it on desktops. And what’s great is it’s the multi-user experience to where you could have this as a virtual booth, where you can invite multiple people in.’’
His company, Tipping Point, specializes in this, and Garner explained how companies could use ‘’TippingPoint Media’s virtual brand experience and create a virtual space designed to showcase your company’s products and services in a three hundred and sixty-degree marketing or training experience. We create life-size, and it gives users the sensation of traveling to new, sometimes impossible locations.’’
A Well-Rounded Brand Experience
Garner also further explained how AR and VR could allow pharmaceutical companies to improve their brand experience. He said, ‘’A brand experience can become any space you imagine using a virtual product launches high tech innovation centers, trade shampoos, hospital and simulations, and one on one top 50 to use your brand experience to showcase products, devices, and surgical procedures, all in immersive 3-D with interactive elements.
For example, Tipping Point. You can build custom simulations that allow the user to learn by making an impact. We can also create interactive journeys that live within your brand experience or take your users down to us selling them to CEO products.’’
Since pharma reps can use interactive elements to show healthcare providers the mechanism of action of the drugs, they have a better chance at explaining their product’s efficacy.
At the end of the day, it’s not merely an augmented reality visual or a head floating in mid-air but also other resources, such as clinical trials, PDFs, and much more. Garner shed light on this by saying, ‘’Brand experience can also host any number of materials, including PDF videos and data from studies and clinical trials.
TPIMs virtual brand experience is accessible from an iPhone, iPad, Android device desktop browser for Oculus Quest. A fully customized brand experience is literally at your fingertips if you’re interested in seeing the TPM virtual brand experience for yourself.’’
Eradicates the Need for Heavy Equipment and Product Samples
Since AR allows pharma reps to explain everything using their mobile devices, they don’t have to work with heavy equipment or carry physical product samples as they used to.
In fact, they can use augmented reality to answer a doctor’s questions with ease. Garner explained this in the interview, ‘’And we also have simulations of sales calls where this doctor can appear in your room, and the doctor’s asking you questions. And with artificial intelligence we have built-in, it’s all voice-activated. So you have real engagements with this avatar.’’
The best part about this technology is that it does not need additional resources. If a doctor has a phone or tablet in their room, they’re good to go.
Garner highlighted this, ‘’And this is just on his iPhone. This is no special technology. And all he has to do is click a link, and he’s right there. And this virtual entity is right there in his space. And you’ll see in a moment he walks up into the colon, and he can do an analysis, and he can check, OK, this is you see this information. This looks like Crohn’s ulcer colitis. And you can make a diagnosis based on that. We’ve even Gamefly this in a way where you actually become the doctor.’’
Garner seemed to be quite confident about the applications of this technology since he claimed every pharma company would soon have it.
He said, ‘’And we wanted a number of awards for this about four years ago. So that’s how long we’ve been actually implementing this, where you become the doctor, and you’re making diagnoses and making determinations for patients, this practice to learn what an HDP goes through on a daily basis. So that’s an example right thereof where they are now. This isn’t this is you’re going to start to see a lot of this. This is going to start to be everywhere, and every pharmaceutical company is going to have it.’’
No Platform Limitations
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted certain limitations and shortcomings in the way our workplaces operate. One of them was the discrepancy in softwares used by different people.
One person might be using Microsoft Teams while the other is on Zoom.
The pharma industry also faced similar software challenges. However, AR and VR tools like Tipping Point are aimed at bridging this gap.
Garner explained, ‘’ Every doctor has got a phone on them, right? I mean, they’re either downloading apps from the Apple App Store, or they’re downloading it from Google Play. All of these tools exist there. In fact, if you want to go demo one of ours, you could just do a Google search for TippingPoint in the App Store. And we have four examples in there that you can download. Really, that’s the only thing preventing it.’’
Reduction in Costs
The cost of traveling, printing paperwork, operating heavy equipment, and carrying samples can quickly add up. With virtual and augmented reality, pharma companies can lower their costs.
Instead of getting rid of the old documents and printing a new set again, all they need to do is update the AR app on their phone. It’s as simple as that.
Garner said, ‘’And if you’re on an iPhone, the iPhone simply tells you there’s been an update, and you hit it. It couldn’t be easier, you know, I mean, compared to the old days where they were using print materials, you’d have to run through the whole printing press, and the costs associated with that are unbelievable. You implement this type of virtual experience, the expansion of it in the value of it, and it could be tailored to individuals. You could have sales reps going in and have a different experience.’’
Straightforward Patient Education
Nowadays, patients are interested and curious about understanding the treatment options available for them. Augmented reality allows pharma companies to explain the mechanism of action so that patients better understand their condition and treatment.
AR has proven extremely successful in the medical industry, with AR apps like ARIA helping patients deal with autism symptoms. With 3D visuals, it becomes easier for the patients to understand what’s happening in their bodies.
Plus, there are AR masks for family therapy sessions to teach kids about emotions and AR games that help doctors detect signs of concussions amongst athletes.
AR gives doctors the ability to go through MRI scans with patients where they point out abnormalities from within virtual 3D models and give instant feedback on whether the patient is at risk for certain types of cancer.
Most patients do not ready the lengthy brochures that come with the medications. Instead, 3D illustrations could be useful in creating an interactive experience for patients and raising awareness.
Precise Manufacturing in Pharma Industry
Augmented reality also plays a role in improving safety and efficiency with respect to machine optimization in manufacturing in the pharma industry. A simple mistake during manufacturing can put many lives at risk.
Since the stakes are pretty high, it’s important to ensure precision and uniformity during manufacturing. Augmented reality not only allows the industry experts to maintain consistency but also minimizes human error.
Using AR technology during manufacturing helps to make sure that the pills will be produced in accordance with all the safety and quality standards. AR allows manufacturers to “see” if the right pills are being made at the right time with high precision levels throughout all stages of production.
AR also ensures that there won’t be any ingredient or dosage errors, which can happen due to human error. So AR can help keep you away from patients receiving dosage mistakes as well as checking for wrong ingredients added into each batch of a drug.
Although both augmented and virtual reality are paramount in the pharma industry, AR seems to take the lead at the moment.
Garner had the same view about AR, ‘’I would say augmented reality right now because this is still being adopted. Now, what’s important to understand is that A are augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality are all being built in the same application.’’
However, both technologies are often used in combination for different applications in the industry.
About the Author
Eric Gubera is the Executive Vice President – Life Sciences at ARSENAL ADVISORS. His LinkedIn profile can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/egubes/