Developed over several decades, virtual reality or VR technology gained significant attention in 2012 with the launch of HMD (head-mounted play) products, such as the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. Prior to this, virtual reality was mostly used in video games and entertainment. However, new developments quickly increased the number of potential VR uses. Combined, AR (augmented reality) and VR technologies were valued at $15.3 billion in 2020, with a projected increase of $77 billion by 2027.
Of all the industries adopting virtual reality, healthcare has been the leader. VR and AR in healthcare was valued at 1,206 billion in 2021, and is projected to grow to $11,658 billion by 2028. So where does the healthcare segment of VR stand now, what are its key uses, and is there room for new players in an already competitive market? Those are some of the things that we will examine in this article.
VR in Telemedicine
Out of all the healthcare sectors, telemedicine has been the one that has shown astonishing growth, especially in the post-COVID world. Of course telemedicine is not a new trend. Remote diagnosis and treatment have been around since the 19th century. Nevertheless, the development of telemedicine is closely related to the development of technology, including VR.
Virtual reality in telemedicine makes it possible to treat patients who previously required exclusively inpatient care. For example, one of the most innovative uses of VR technology involves the use of a robotic exoskeleton that allows a doctor to get a clear picture of the position of a patient’s organs while they are miles away.
Virtual Reality for Education and Training
One of the most popular ways to use virtual reality in medicine is through training and educating healthcare providers. Nurses and doctors alike can use virtual reality as a way of training and learning that provides a real-life experience.
Virtual Reality Simulation in Surgeon Training
Most of the operations in modern day hospitals and clinics are implemented using multiple instruments and high-technology equipment/gadgets. A surgeon’s skills are directly dependent on his years of experience in handling various instruments in the operating room. Different types of practice and training are required to enhance coordination skills, consistency in tasks and correct workflow.
Simulators provide an excellent way of teaching and training nurses as well as surgeons helping other medical specialists. With virtual reality, all these people can get a high class education on various health issues. VR in surgery offers the chance to be completely immersed in scenarios that depict real-life operations.
Virtual reality for teaching has already been implemented in many clinics around the world. For example, Stanford University has owned a surgery simulator for the past 17 years. The simulator incorporates haptic technology which provides sensory feedback to the learner during simulation. The university’s endoscopic sinus surgery simulation uses CT scans of real-life patients to develop 3D models on which learners can practice.
Emergency care and VR
Departments dealing with emergencies can use virtual reality as a tool for appropriate training. We all know that practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when training those responding to emergencies. Most life-saving interventions and procedures are rarely performed in real life, despite being important for patient survival.
Most of the time, physicians have a limited amount of time to act to save the patient’s life. For this reason, it is essential for care providers to ensure that their skills and knowledge are up to date. With VR tools, care providers can quickly simulate scenarios that don’t happen regularly and apply the skills and knowledge gained through theory. In addition, they will retain the proficiency of their life-saving skills even when they do not have to use them frequently.
Patient education is another excellent use of virtual reality in medicine. Often, patients do not adequately understand the procedures that will be performed on them, making them more challenging, given that patients are required to provide their consent prior to any operation.
Rehabilitation, treatment, as well as other procedures are more effective when the patient understands well enough what to look for next. VR technology can help set expectations for the different phases of a specific treatment plan. Patients can use virtual reality to gain a clear understanding of the changes in their bodies during and after a particular procedure, thus being able to provide informed consent and manage all expectations regarding their recovery. Huh.
Revolutionary ways of managing neuropsychological issues
The benefits of VR in healthcare come with new opportunities as far as treating neuropsychological problems is concerned. Neuropsychological issues arise when the brain and nervous system affect a patient’s behavior and cognition. VR technology can be applied in this area in a number of ways.
It is essential for people with different types of phobias to develop strategies that help them cope with their situations as part of recovery. With virtual reality technology, these patients have the opportunity to practice their treatment methods in a safe environment, thus achieving an excellent way to advance their recovery process. Many clinics have begun to use virtual reality to develop conditions that aggravate the patient’s condition in a safe and controlled manner. Therapy sessions can be quickly repeated or stopped depending on the patient’s progress. As patients are exposed to different scenarios, they have to practice their coping strategies, which, in turn, improve their chances of handling that particular situation in real life.
treatment of ptsd
Since 1997, the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies has always been using VR to manage and treat PTSD by taking advantage of various simulations related to war. With controlled exposure therapy, war veterans are subjected to traumatic situations to help them deal with their emotions in healthy ways.
Virtual reality can be used in pain management. In particular, it can be used as a distraction therapy device. Pain is felt when the senses are affected by nerve and brain pathways. Therefore, virtual reality video games can be used to distract patients and, as a result, reduce some of the pain felt during excruciating tasks such as physical therapy or wound care. A good example is Snowworld, a game developed by the University of Washington to control pain in burn victims. In the game, users throw snowballs at virtual penguins while they listen to Paul Simon.
Assessing the extent of brain damage and creating rehabilitation plans
The use of virtual reality in testing for neuropsychological disorders can significantly increase the accuracy of patient results. Currently, testing is conducted in a controlled environment with specialized parameters that often do not represent the real-world conditions that patients go through every day. With VR, assessments can better depict real-life situations, and healthcare providers can gain a more accurate understanding of their patient’s general condition and behavior.
Training of young autistic adults in social cognition
Medically, autism is described as a limited activity in the parts of the brain that understand/process social interactions. Therefore, the goal of treatment is to stimulate these areas. VR adaptive therapy creates virtual environments for autistic patients where they can exercise their social behavior. By using various virtual scenarios, for example, virtual work interviews, virtual dates, etc., trainers can teach how to communicate effectively and help patients with autism understand how to behave in a socially appropriate manner. to be done.
Use of VR in the treatment of phantom limb pain
Healthcare professionals have encountered several cases of patients who report experiencing pain in a limb they have lost after undergoing an amputation. Phantom limb pain or simply known as PLP, is something that patients can experience, even if they know the arm or leg is no longer there. It is difficult to understand why and how these patients continue to experience this pain. As such, it is very challenging to treat this pain using conventional pain relievers or pain relievers.
VR can be used to develop a 3D world where a phantom limb is present and can be manipulated. With the help of this new virtual world, patients can work to overcome most of the psychological effects of the condition and manage pain better.
Providing therapy to people with disabilities and chronic conditions
With the implementation of VR in medicine, people who have chronic conditions and disabilities can now experience things that are considered impossible to experience. The technology has helped many paralyzed people walk again and even terminal cancer patients fulfill their bucket list desires. For example, the FOVE headset has been used to assist physically challenged children in playing the piano using eye movements. The headset uses an app developed by the company known as ‘I Play the Piano’. These examples are just a few of the many therapeutic benefits of VR technology.
Implementing VR in this way does not cure these diseases and conditions, but has the potential to improve the quality of life of affected patients and encourage the implementation of new approaches to therapy.
Robotic VR Solutions
This particular use of virtual reality technology is at the intersection of VR and robotics. Surgical robots are designed to further reduce the invasiveness of surgery, allowing surgeons to perform complex operations through an incision as small as 1.5 cm.
For example, a robot developed by Vicarious Surgical can insert a camera and necessary instruments into a small port and provide 360-degree access to the area via a VR headset worn by the surgeon. The robot can completely mimic a surgeon’s shoulder, arm and arm movements, accomplishing the goals of surgery in the least painful way.
Developing VR Applications for Healthcare
As a developer, virtual reality software designed for healthcare is a fascinating growth path to be considered. It is still a growing area where technological advancements and further research are bound to lead to innovation in the years to come. Sure, the market is expanding at a rapid pace, but it is not high enough to the point where there is no room for new players.
Testing VR Solutions for Healthcare
When developing software solutions, quality assurance needs to go along with the development process. This is especially true for healthcare VR applications, which thousands of potential providers and patients will rely on for a variety of relief and support. This is why testing should be an integral part of developing VR applications for the healthcare industry.
Unlike some tech sectors, VR in healthcare isn’t just a buzzword or bubble that will burst in a few years. The use of virtual reality in healthcare is already helping those who need it most and will only gain more value and innovation from here. So whether you are able to take advantage of VR technology, admire it from afar, or actively participate in its development by releasing a new application, the VR healthcare industry is one to watch.