Despite gaining prominence as one of the most exciting developments in consumer tech of recent years, Virtual Reality’s (VR) potential seems to still be well underestimated. The same way a VR headset can transport a user to the depths of the Amazonian jungle, Intergalactic space or ancient Rome, it can transport physicians and patients to the practice, operating room or even inside the human body. With an estimated Billion dollars to be invested in the industry by 2020, VR is now being used to save lives.

The benefits that VR offers to the healthcare industry are substantial and are in fact disrupting the sector. They include, but are not limited to, enhanced insight into anatomy through fine-detailed imagery, authentic simulation of treatment to train practitioners, geographic accessibility and increased speed in the delivery of medical education.

Enhanced insights into the human body

Complimenting computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology’s ability to replicate anything in fine detail, VR can be used to take the user into areas of the human body that would be otherwise impossible to reach.  This sort of application has already hit Australian shores, where at the University of Newcastle, students are being taught key anatomy changes, techniques and emergency responses about giving birth using VR headsets.

Similarly, VR can be implemented in the treatment and education process to increase patient satisfaction. Leading this initiative is another Australian grown innovation, Vantari VR, who convert traditional 2D scans into fully immersive virtual reality experiences so that doctors and patients can better understand their patients anatomy. Vantari’s technology is scheduled to be trialled at hospitals across NSW this year, including Royal Prince Alfred, Campbelltown Private and Westmead.

Preparing for procedures

It is training for the most complex and high-risk of procedures where VR proposes most value. Enabling students to practice for high risk scenarios, with no risk at all to the patient is an obvious win. Powered by intel is a US based company called Surgical Theater, who define themselves as a “360 degree dynamic platform for surgical planning”.  They have partnered with Stanford University, who have their neurosurgeons slip-on VR headsets to study parts of the patient’s brain in immaculate 360 degrees detail prior to surgery. This provides them with far deeper insight to what is possible with conventional CT or MRI scans.

Other applications:

Here are some other cool ways in which VR will transform the healthcare industry:

  • Mental Health: In its ability to transport the user to any environment, VR can be used to take mental health sufferers to places of serenity and comfort, or to overcome scenarios that may be the source of anxiety or PTSD. The intensity or vividness of the environment can also be controlled, and gradually increased or decreased over time.
  • Disease Awareness: VR can be used to simulate the experience of disease sufferers, allowing non sufferers to experience and empathize with what its like to live day to day with diseases. An example is the Abbvie Parkinsons experience, which replicates a supermarket experience for a Parkinson sufferer.
  • Fast Training: With its aging population, the US is experienced a surgeon shortage, not too dissimilar to many other developed countries. In addition to this, it is expected that China and India will need roughly 6 million more physicians by 2020. VR’s ability to train quickly, may be a solution to this problem
  • Treatment for Children: Naturally, children are more frightened by their visits to the Doctor, and VR can be used to ease their fear. In WA, St Johns hospital offer an underwater VR adventure to distract and ease children’s anxiety when they have blood tests and other procedures. A study conducted at the Florida Atlantic University showed that VR experiences as such contributed to a drop in anticipated and actual fear by 94.1%.
  • Remote Training: You don’t need to be in a laboratory, practice or theatre to put on a VR headset, which makes the technology an incredible valuable tool for learning anytime and anywhere. Not only does this reduce the cost of medical training by saving on facilities, equipment and travel to physical locations, but also it allows for more rural and remote trainees to access training.
  • Aged Care: VR can be used to improve the wellbeing of the elderly, taking them anywhere they want to be. In Melbourne, BlueCross Care trialled the VR experienced at an aged care facility, allowing residents to see places and have experiences that would otherwise be out of reach. Examples of desirable experiences could be travel, theatre, adventure and aquatics.

While VR should not entirely replace traditional healthcare practice, the perceived benefits of what this technology can add to the medical field is pretty exciting. We can’t wait to see what it brings to the future! How do you feel about it? Share with Credabl your views on technology disrupting the healthcare sector.

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