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Increasing Life Science Customer Engagement With AR

POV for Healthcare Professionals

Joe Knouse
Oct 29, 2019 · 5 min read

The hardware and software necessary to support augmented reality have arrived. We know that the average technology user has embraced AR as a method of brand engagement as well as entertainment. The question is, “is our audience ready for augmented reality?” Simply, yes.

Augmented reality (AR) is nothing new to users familiar with digital tactics and software applications. It’s been integrated into various forms of media for years. And even though they may not realize it, the average consumer has been taking advantage of the technology since 1998, when the NFL began projecting the now obligatory yellow line marking the first-down barrier across the field of play for the viewers at home. By placing a visual element within the environment that appeared to coexist within the game and dynamically adjust to the circumstances of gameplay, the producers added value to the viewing experience — they effectively augmented reality.

AR mobile applications began appearing as early as 2009, when Yelp integrated AR technology into its popular customer-based ratings and review service. Users could utilize the app’s “location marker” technology in conjunction with their smart phone’s camera to find relevant businesses in the surrounding area simply by watching their device screen. Location marker AR exploded in July of 2016 with the release of Pokemon Go, the extraordinarily popular gaming app that capitalised on the popular animation franchise by allowing its fanbase to deeply engage with the Pokemon universe and actually become part of the story — to become a Pokemon Trainer who collects, trains, and eventually battles their captured Pokemon. With 500 million downloads by the end of 2016 and 147 million monthly active users as of May 2018, Pokemon Go was without a doubt ARs “aha” moment.

Apple created even more inroads for AR use in June of 2017 with the release of ARKit, a software development extension for iOS that enhanced AR on Apple mobile devices and simplified the creation of AR within applications. Coupled with significant improvements to camera hardware within iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, Apple made it clear to users that they were all-in with AR, and brands followed. Later in the year, Ikea launched it’s popular Place app, allowing users to virtually “place” furniture within their homes simply by selecting the furniture of their choice and pointing their smartphone camera at the floor. The app is able to locate the floor and judge room-scale by gauging surrounding objects and populates the space with the selected furniture. Soon after, Ikea spiked in Google searches, garnered wide media attention, and became the Apple Apps store's most popular free non-gaming app. Additionally, giving customers the ability to see furniture in their homes before purchasing led to fewer returns.

Even with the inherent benefits of AR, so too come challenges that many marketers find overwhelming. One is obvious: cost. Developing unique AR applications from the ground up can be time-consuming, and requires a deep knowledge of 3D asset creation and code development that can lead to a severe case of sticker shock, especially when coupled with the fear of building a tactic that fails to engage the audience.

And a failure to engage correlates directly with another challenge.

Engagement will absolutely fail if the audience never bothers to take the necessary steps to interact with a brand tactic. Specifically, if an AR application must be executed as a stand-alone application that must be sought out and obtained through Apple and Android app stores, there is a very large chance the AR application will never be downloaded by a physician audience already crunched for time.

The good news is that these challenges can be overcome. Most interestingly, Apple has announced that in conjunction with even more updates to ARKit, it will now support AR experiences within the Mobile Safari web browser, which means that iPhone users will no longer need to download specialized applications in order to experience augmented reality. This change will happen with the release of iOS13, due in September of 2019. The updates to ARKit promise to ease the difficulty (and therefore cost) in creating AR applications, and the new capabilities of the browser erase the need for additional app downloads.

Within the Life Sciences industry, AR is widely used for physician training. Surgeons now regularly harness the power of AR to aid them in learning new techniques with a noninvasive precision that was simply unheard of before. For physicians, medical students, and patients alike augmented reality allows for a complex unveiling of anatomy and demonstrates mechanisms for disease and drug interactions in ways that flat textbooks and conventional videos cannot.

Medical professionals are ready for the change.

In a recent poll by Decisions Resources Group, it’s shown that over 75% of US physicians have either already used or would be interested in using AR and virtual reality for professional purposes. This number is bound to continue an upward trend as younger generations enter the field and as barriers continue to come down.

Now is the time for brands to begin building on this interest by providing engaging AR content to physicians so that they can phase more complex AR tactics into the market over time.

Of particular interest, Veeva CRM has recently integrated the Apple ARKit into its platform. This could give pharmaceutical sales reps the ability to extend their time with physicians dramatically. By utilizing the power of AR and the iPad and allowing their customers to directly interact with AR within a digital sales tool or detail aid, they can hold a physician’s attention for additional minutes and increase the staying power of the messages they hope to deliver.

Adding augmented reality to a brand’s arsenal of promotional tactics doesn’t have to be a developmental nightmare or an ungodly outlay of funds. Yes, large initiatives can be amortized into multiple pieces such as convention activities and rich media drivers. But beyond that, there are more simple ways to begin. By utilizing the services of innovative companies like Thyng and Blippar, users can implement simple tactics in just a matter of a few hours.

Augmented reality has become, well, a reality. With planning and creative thought, brands can increase awareness, recognition, engagement, and conversions within the general market by over 30%. Within healthcare, AR is already playing a role in training and education. As physicians are now more aware and comfortable with the technology, and with AR’s particular suitability to interaction and science, marketers should feel confident utilizing this technology to promote their messages to a demanding audience.

Joe Knouse can be reached for comment at He is a life long lover of everything tech, can play a mean guitar riff, and he enjoys traditional savory meat pies. By all means, reach out to him about the future of AR and you might find yourself bonding over your mutual love of Apple ARKit and a steak and stilton pie.


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