With pressure mounting on healthcare services worldwide and the lack of quality care available, the time has come for innovation within the industry that propels its ability to treat, care, and educate into a digital future. Indeed, according to some experts, we have just scratched the surface of what is possible with VR, which is only being used at about 5% of its potential use.
The benefits of VR in healthcare have been well publicized and keenly felt, and the maturation of the technology has opened doors to its application in several areas in the field, including training and educating the next generation of professionals. With VR, healthcare providers can traverse borders to provide massively improved patient outcomes and revolutionize their ability to provide access to highly accurate and super-immersive training.
How VR is being used to transform the healthcare industry
- What is Virtual Reality in healthcare?
- How is Virtual Reality used in healthcare?
- How VR changing healthcare for the better
What is Virtual Reality in Healthcare?
Firstly, it is important to note the difference between the application of virtual reality in medicine as opposed to its use as a source of entertainment. Despite the vast supporting data and positive outcomes, there is still a stigma among many practitioners surrounding the use of AR and VR technology in healthcare.
Whether training new doctors or providing mental health care, the list of applications is growing as we discover new ways of evolving the partnership between human knowledge, intuition, and technology. VR is not meant to replace the human element of treatment but rather to add another dimension to the way that patients can communicate and receive care. VR applications in healthcare are twofold:
Virtual Reality for Healthcare Professionals
Healthcare professionals use an array of VR-driven medical systems to offer superior, more personalized patient care. With their ease of use and incredible processing, these systems give practitioners the potential to deliver more effective and efficient treatment. This will save institutions valuable resources while enhancing their ability to simulate real word scenarios that provide even greater insights into patient concerns.
Virtual Reality for Patients
Dramatically improved patient care is a cornerstone of the VR revolution in medicine, with even more potential for greater comfort and immersive experiences. This extends anywhere from pain management to treatment for children, mental health, and psychological therapy.
How is Virtual Reality used in healthcare?
The health industry is innovating in hugely exciting ways for VR to assist patients and healthcare professionals in improving treatments and outcomes, including surgery, pain management, physical and cognitive rehabilitation, and mental health, among others.
VR applications in healthcare are used for many purposes and allow surgeons to examine a patient before a procedure virtually, medical staff to train in life-like simulations and support virtual sensory tests for patients with muscle weakness. It also generates empathy among healthcare providers by simulating their patients’ conditions. The current technology can be deployed in three ways, but hardware is constantly evolving, and there may soon be even more ways to access and interact with simulated environments.
Head-mounted display (HMD)
Headsets like the Oculus Rift (Oculus medical simulation), HTC Vive, Gear VR, or Google Cardboard are attached via straps to the user’s head, with the lenses and earphones attached to it. These types of head-mounted displays offer an immersive virtual reality experience where objects are placed before the user.
VR smart glasses
Smart glasses empower doctors to perform medical procedures and diagnose with higher accuracy, improving clinical outcomes and quality of care. Google Glass, for example, is used during surgical procedures for video recording, data visualization, and patient information.
Haptic VR gloves
These gloves are designed to enable users to interact with their virtual environments. Among the latest developments in VR technology, they have already shown they have the potential to contribute to the healthcare industry in myriad ways. This includes Virtual Reality simulations in healthcare education, where they can create a more immersive and practical training experience.
So how is VR changing healthcare for the better?
Whether it is facilitating superior rehabilitation therapies, improving surgeons’ ability to perform complex procedures, or ensuring the efficient management of patient information and backroom processes, VR is shaping the future of healthcare in several ways.
1. Telehealth or Telemedicine
Virtual reality is at the forefront of the broader evolution of communication in technology. The driving force behind it is the total immersion of human sensorimotor functions into a tangible, borderless communication experience. Primarily focused on this communication of medical information, VR enhances the patient-doctor relationship this function.
VR in healthcare industry experts agree it can be used to create a far more intuitive method of interacting with this type of information and as a malleable environment that heightens the feeling of physical presence in consultations.
- More Convenience: VR telemedicine means patients can get care from the comfort of their homes, eliminating the need for travel and improving waiting times, accessibility, and convenience.
- Cost-Efficiency: Traditional healthcare systems are expensive, and transportation and hospital fees can be dramatically reduced with VR making healthcare more affordable.
- Greater Access: VR telehealth gives patients in remote areas access to healthcare services, improves healthcare equality, and ensures quality care irrespective of their location.
- Superior Patient Engagement: Engaging patients in their healthcare journey by providing interactive and immersive experiences boosts satisfaction rates while encouraging their active participation in their own treatment plans.
- Optimized Delivery: Healthcare providers can use VR to streamline their processes and deliver services more efficiently, leading to shorter wait times, faster diagnoses, and improved healthcare delivery.
2. Improved Surgical Procedures
The application and success of VR in medicine have been chiefly seen in surgery, and its ability to train surgeons to complete complex procedures makes it one of the most exciting fields for future development. It also allows surgeons, prospective or practicing, to improve their accuracy and motor skills, thus reducing the possible risk of errors and post-operative complications that may occur. Regarding surgery, Virtual Reality in healthcare education is an aspect of the field that is ripe for evolution and has the capacity to pass on and perfect techniques that increase the quality of healthcare worldwide.
The prevalence of VR in the surgical field may even forge a path toward a future where healthcare professionals can deploy AI-powered robotics to assist with more complex surgeries by controlling and managing them from a distance. Indeed, IT integration into surgical planning can create a 3D “digital twin” of the body, allowing physicians to analyze and compare cases from various perspectives and find the optimal way to operate.
- Hands-on Experiences: VR surpasses traditional methods like cadaver labs, and surgeons can practice procedures in a risk-free environment, fine-tune their skills, and learn different techniques, ultimately improving the quality of their training and patient outcomes.
- Objective Assessment: The objective assessment of a surgeon’s skills is crucial for ensuring quality patient outcomes, and VR offers a revolutionary way to assess technical training. A 3-pronged approach that includes knowledge, ability, and efficiency allows healthcare professionals to practice procedures and receive real-time, objective feedback.
- Reproducible Results: Repeating procedures over time lessens the learning curve required to perform complex surgeries and makes it far easier to retain morale, improve techniques, and assess proficiency.
3. Revolutionary Childcare
AR and VR technology in healthcare also benefits pediatrics and childcare by providing an immersive distraction from any pain, and this application can be used across many treatments, removing fear and anxiety. They also play a significant role in socializing children with autism and improving their communication skills with gamified activities that promote connection, calming techniques, and deploy situational learning.
It has already made big strides in treating autism in thousands of children worldwide with excellent results, and the future is bright indeed for the field with the introduction of mixed reality. Additionally, the ability to administer these treatments remotely and without the traditional office-based setting means borderless and travel-free care is available to those in need.
- Reduced Anxiety and Pain: Children undergoing a medical procedure such as venipuncture or intravenous catheterization feel more relaxed and less afraid during hospital visits.
- Escape and Distraction: Exploring and interacting with different environments provides an alternative to the hospital setting for children with prolonged hospital stays, providing them an escape and distraction from their medical treatment.
- Personalized Experiences: With developers creating customized virtual reality experiences specifically for children with their specific interests and preferences in mind, VR can reduce hospital-related anxiety and make their hospital experience more enjoyable.
- Faster Healing: By reducing preoperative anxiety, providing an immersive escape, promoting understanding of their healthcare experience, and reducing pain and anxiety levels, VR technology can help enhance children’s hospital experience and, in turn, facilitate a faster healing process.
4. Holistic Pain Management
With VR and AR in healthcare, pain relief will become far more intuitive, and even though pain levels may vary in complexity, the underlying principles for their treatment remain the same. After the initial identification of problem nerves and medication is prescribed, VR can further boost their efficacy. It is a highly effective method for pain relief, but even as an adjunctive solution, it has incredible potential to increase the potency of other treatments as well. It also means far less reliance on medication and thus decreasing the cost of ongoing treatment.
It is far more than a simple distraction from pain, VR dominates the brain’s attention in a highly sophisticated way, creating a feeling of total relaxation within an interactive environment that provides immersion that keeps pain stimuli at bay. In fact, pain scores can be reduced by up to 50% with VR.
- Healthy Breathing Techniques: Reducing anxiety and providing relaxation for patients, VR programs record progress to customize pain management for more effective treatment and care.
- Interoceptive Awareness: Allows patients to understand the internal signals their body sends to the brain, helping them identify the type of pain, where it originated, and how to manage it. VR helps effectively increase interoceptive awareness in the pain management plan.
- No Side Effects: Unlike many medications used to reduce pain, VR comes with no side effects and can be used as an alternative in some cases and help facilitate rest and relief.
- Emotional Health: Mental and emotional wellness is linked with physical pain, but VR offers enjoyment and self-compassion, helps patients experience new places, challenges, and relax, ultimately improving overall health and wellness.
Partner with a leader in Virtual Reality solutions and embrace the future of healthcare
VR in healthcare industry conversations have come full circle, and the reality is that it has shown itself to be an invaluable tool in almost every part of the medical spectrum. Institutions that adopt early and fine-tune their integration of VR and mixed reality have not only given themselves a lead on digital transformation, but they have earned the confidence of their patients and staff with exceptional results.
At Proven Reality, we know that the future of healthcare is in emerging technologies and that providers who adopt early gain a foothold in transforming their operations and providing the highest quality care. Our expertise in delivering Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality solutions for leading healthcare providers makes us uniquely placed to help elevate patient and professional experiences. Ask us how.