The advent of virtual reality (VR) in healthcare will allow medical professionals to ensure the physical and mental well being of their patients.
The Tribeca Film Festival recently showcased a virtual reality film experience that takes the audience back to 10,000 BC. However, entertaining through immersive films is just one of the numerous use cases of virtual reality. Similar to the use cases of VR in entertainment, the healthcare sector can also benefit from the technology. Healthcare institutions can utilize virtual reality to discover multiple innovative use cases that can improve the lives of patients as well as doctors. VR can be used to explore fascinating possibilities in the healthcare sector to enhance treatments and patient experience in hospitals. Due to these possibilities, the global healthcare market for immersive technologies was worth $933.1 million in 2018 and is expected to grow at the rate of 36.2% till 2023.
By leveraging VR in healthcare, medical professionals can deliver more effective therapy to their patients. VR can help uncover alternative treatments for several disorders that have painful or tedious treatment procedures. Hence, several medical VR startups are developing tools that simplify these treatments for doctors and patients. With medical VR, therapy sessions will also be more interactive and entertaining for patients. Also, virtual reality can help in training medical students for surgeries.
Virtual Reality in Healthcare
The advent of VR in healthcare will lead to the development of the following applications:
1. Autism Therapy
The rate of autism in the US increased by 15% in the last two years. One in every 68 children has autism in the United States. Currently, there is no cure for Autism or conditions similar to it like Asperger syndrome. However, speech and language therapy help enhance a patient’s communication skills and social interactions. For this purpose, autistic people have to book in-person sessions with a doctor. Trips to the doctor can be significantly reduced by introducing VR in healthcare. VR can enable parents to deliver effective therapy to their children from the comfort of their homes. For this purpose, VR headsets can display immersive environments where autism patients can interact with virtual characters. Besides, doctors and parents can work together to create a personalized virtual environment for a patient, where they can choose sensory complexity in a VR scenario.
2. Chronic Pain
Generally, doctors prescribe opioids to patients who are suffering from chronic pain. But, over-prescription of opioids has led to the rise of opioid addiction. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain and there is no non-opioid treatment to control that pain. The rate of opioid overdose fatalities has risen beyond 20% in the last two years. Hence, healthcare professionals are constantly looking for an alternative to manage chronic pain. According to research, showing calm 360-degree videos using VR goggles has proven to reduce pain in research subjects. VR environments distract patients from chronic pain and help them release stress and alleviate pain. Such calming VR content can include videos of tourist destinations or games. VR can enable patients to diminish their brain’s response to chronic pain and repair brain incongruities. With this approach, the utilization of VR in healthcare can help patients with chronic pain to rehabilitate themselves and reduce the impact of chronic pain.
3. Brain Injuries and Stroke
After surviving a stroke or a severe brain injury, patients find it increasingly difficult to walk or move. Thus, patients have to go through rehabilitation procedures to regain their ability to move. Also, rehabilitation should start as quickly as possible to ensure a speedy recovery. VR platforms can help patients to practice moving their limbs and picking up objects using controllers. Patients can carry out repetitive movements to train their nervous system using virtual reality. VR platforms also help patients engage with a virtual environment and teaches them how to respond in various scenarios. Using VR, patients can recover quicker compared to traditional rehabilitation methods. Hence, the utilization of VR in healthcare will ensure speedy rehabilitation for patients who have survived a stroke or brain injuries.
4. Mental Health
Researchers have been using VR to treat multiple mental disorders such as PTSD and schizophrenia. VR can be used to develop interactive simulations of numerous scenarios to help patients face their mental issues. For instance, a patient with social anxiety can be exposed to a crowded party using a simulated party environment. This technology can also be used to expose patients to situations that are difficult to recreate. For example, flying or swimming underwater. Psychologists can utilize VR-simulated environments along with generic treatment to help patients with mental health issues. Also, psychologists can create personalized simulations for different patients to achieve better results.
5. Low Vision
Around 135 million people are affected by low vision globally. Low vision is a visual impairment that can be caused due to aging, injury, or other eye-affecting disorders. Currently, low vision cannot be cured with medicines, glasses, or surgery and patients just have to learn to live with it. Therefore, healthcare professionals need to find an effective method to treat low vision. The implementation of VR in healthcare can help patients with low vision recover their eyesight. VR platforms can allow patients to magnify desired objects in a virtual environment without missing out on their simulated surroundings. VR platforms can offer elaborate options to choose a patient’s preferred level of magnification, contrast, and ambient light level. With this technology, patients can perform activities that require hand-eye coordination in a simulation. In this manner, VR can help patients reduce the impact of low vision.
6. Surgeon Training
In a healthcare institution, only a few medical students can be personally present in an operating room to study and analyze a surgical procedure. This approach of learning medical procedures can be tedious for students as well as surgeons. Surgeons can use 360-degree cameras to stream their operations in real-time. Medical students can view these live-streamed medical procedures with the help of VR goggles. Thus, using VR, several medical students can learn about different technicalities of operations in a virtual OR environment.
7. Patient Care
Patients with chronic illnesses may have to spend extensive periods of time in a hospital. During these periods, patients may suffer from stress and depression as they miss their home, family, and friends. VR can help patients experience life at their home during ongoing treatment. VR platforms offer patients a medium to interact with their family in real-time. For this purpose, a patient’s family can install a 360-degree camera in their home. Patients can wear their VR goggles to experience their home in an immersive environment and communicate with their family and friends. With this approach, patients can effectively focus on their social life as well as their treatment. Also, mental wellbeing with the help of social interactions can prove to be helpful in a patient’s treatment.
8. Disorder Awareness
The advent of VR in healthcare will help raise awareness about certain physical and mental disorders. Content creators and healthcare professionals can team up to display the daily struggle of patients with serious diseases such as Parkinson’s. People can experience the life of patients with severe disorders in simulated environments such as supermarkets, restaurants, and educational institutions. Such simulations can help people understand how patients face various different scenarios in the real world. These virtual experiences will help people gain insights into the life of patients with serious diseases.
The utilization of VR in healthcare will offer revolutionary solutions for various disorders such as autism, low vision, and chronic pain, where convention medicine fails. With further developments in the technology, newer and more innovative applications will help healthcare institutions offer more effective and personalized treatments for different patients. Hence, the implementation of virtual reality may take center stage in the healthcare sector soon.