In 2020, Virtual Reality technologies are no longer the distant, futuristic fantasy you get a taste of only in movies. These techs are, in fact, being used right now. While we have focused for decades on using heavy machinery, computers, and smartphones to learn and interact, virtual reality headsets have been evolving at a fast pace behind the scenes, achieving immersive graphics and powerful systems that will revolutionize many industries. It is being implemented in areas like business, gaming, entertainment, and education, but most surprisingly, it is at the heart of the healthcare industry too.
It’s indeed a little quizzical how such gaming headsets can help a doctor, but the benefits of wearable 3D headsets can solve many problems in how doctors, nurses, and patients will learn and guide treatment. Let’s explore all of these avenues below.
Medical Education and Training
Virtual Reality in healthcare will give a boost to how medical education and training is done. Before this time, nurses and doctors had to learn and train on some real-life squishy brains, cadavers, and from images on computers. Like other traditional methods, this is not only time-consuming and a waste of resources, but also not engaging and limited for a complicated sector like healthcare.
When Virtual Reality programs were introduced by major companies into healthcare applications, they bridged these gaps by providing nurses and doctors with a combination of 360 degrees video and interactive 3D medical content. The realism of this tech was simply fascinating to physicians. By using the VR’s controllers, they were able to tap into minute details of the brain and the body, observing realistic feedback pop up from their interactions with different organs and manipulating virtual machines and tools that are too expensive to leave the hospital. On top of that, they learned all of this while they improved their skills in surgery without any risk.
So, if these VR headsets become cheaper and heavily used in medical instruction, how will it really change healthcare?
In one study from Harvard Business, some participants underwent surgical training using VR and their performance was compared against traditional methods. Their performance was shown to have improved by a 230% difference. In particular, their speed and accuracy were also laser-sharp and far more experienced (1). This goes to show that whether you are a patient or a student, investing in VR applications in healthcare is a huge benefit to everyone.
Mental Health and Psychological Intervention
Virtual Reality has an uncanny power to immerse you in any type of environment or social situation as if you are really there. In some deeper ways, our brains are easily tricked into reacting instinctively to virtual relaxing natural places like Hawaii, or challenging scenarios like being exposed to a spider in your backyard. This is exactly what has sparked many VR projects to help completely reshape how patients improve their mental health or intervene in psychological complications. Long gone are the days when a mental health coach spends his entire session guiding you into relaxation or trying to uncover the roots of your social anxiety through dry conversation.
Virtual Reality in healthcare can now help mental health professionals sit together with their patients in highly immersive virtual settings to overcome their anxieties, panic attacks, and PTSD. If it’s spiders that they fear, they can switch to exposure therapy in VR to challenge their arachnophobia. No other technology can be effective in countering these deeply embedded psychological issues like VR. The use of their powerful simulations has an extraordinary effect on matching your experiences and solving them.
Virtual reality has other uses beyond the therapy bed. As a patient in a hospital, you might, for example, hate to count your days while being enclosed within white four walls. This is also being changed by allowing patients to transport themselves anywhere from just their beds. Many experts believe that this activity can reduce stress and pain, allowing sick patients to recover faster and enjoy themselves while they are in the hospital.
Physical Exercise and Pain Management
Physical exercises and pain management are some of the bitter sides of recovery programs for patients. They are nothing but trouble. When VR is in the picture though, the therapy can finally be shaped to successfully motivate patients into action or distract them from their pain.
How good is VR at this?
Well, images or videos rich in action can elicit feelings of vivacity and strength, so imagine immersive Virtual Reality with the goal of physical therapy in mind.
Several studies done on patients with skin transplants or undergoing physical therapy have actually demonstrated that their pain levels were greatly reduced when they used VR, both when sedentary or in physical exercise (2). As patients immerse themselves in virtual sports-oriented situations, they simply engage in their therapies with greater focus, fun, and commitment, especially if their recovery periods will take too long.
Even though these programs are being developed by companies specializing in VR for healthcare, they are also being propelled in large by the gaming industry. Anything from jogging, to muscle workout, to professional training, VR has up its sleeves rich sports content to save patients and professional athletes alike.
Surgery in Virtual Reality
A major issue for VR in healthcare is the delicacy of surgeries in areas such as the replacement of organs, removing tumors, or your teeth at the dentist. Virtual reality can essentially import the precision and accuracy of an flawless computer in doing this.
The first alternative is training physicians and surgeons to be even more accurate and fast by replicating the exact surgery in Virtual reality before engaging in the real one. This means we can eliminate all kinds of blunders or unexpected risks that surgeons might not be prepared for.
The second alternative is already being used in labs. New surgeons can carry out their surgeries while their headset projects a type of augmented reality shapes – like animated data or an inside look on the arteries or cavities – on the ongoing operation to help them make precise incisions and know what’s happening. This may also be called ‘’Mixed Reality’’.
In the future of VR in healthcare, you will also witness the rise of robotics surgery to solve many pressing problems. Things like force feedback, accuracy, and the factor of risk all play a role in many surgeries, especially the delicate ones. That’s when a robotic device can be a lifesaver. Typically, a surgeon at a different location can manipulate the arm of this robot using VR and an advanced system that tracks all of this without any time latency.
Virtual Reality Diagnostics
Since Virtual Reality reconstructs a 3D environment that you can see, hear, and touch, then it will also take medical diagnostics to a whole new level. By combining VR with other methods like MRI scans, doctors can easily diagnose their patients in a way that is advanced and rich. All of this will ensure a pain-free diagnosis and a stronger understanding of your state by your doctors.
Future of VR in Healthcare
What VR is achieving in healthcare is revolutionary, but what the future holds will be even more thrilling. The current progress of VR applications in healthcare, in fact, is considered in its infancy. With a faster internet connection, newer VR technologies, and better immersion, the VR industry will redefine how we run our healthcare sector. The global consumer case of VR in 2020 has even reached the 20.8 billion dollar scale, mainly because of gaming at this time. But, by 2023 this worldwide adoption will triple (3), affecting industries like healthcare even more radically. Certainly, VR will not stop anytime soon. So, what we can expect is that the capabilities of doctors and patients will improve beyond recognition, and the healthcare industry will become a powerful asset in our society.