VR for healthcare and medical professionals

VR for Healthcare: Why the Time is Now!

Nisha Burton Virtual & Augmented Reality

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) are disrupting the medical/healthcare field.

These technologies build empathy in doctors and train patients about upcoming procedures. And that’s just to name a few applications.

If you think VR/AR only has purposes in gaming and entertainment, think again!

In fact, the Global Newswire reports that VR/AR in healthcare will be a massive $33.72 Billion industry by 2027.

Furthermore, the price of these technologies is dropping every day.

Twenty-five years ago, this may have seemed like stuff out of science fiction movies. Now it’s staged to become an essential part of our future.

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In this article, we lay out 8 ‘use cases’ for VR/AR in the medical and healthcare professions.

Are you ready to start considering how your team could use these technologies?

Read on!

VR/AR technology for Training and Education of Healthcare Professionals:

1. Anatomy Education

VR/AR is already helping healthcare professionals during their training and education.

Can you imagine seeing inside the human body in 3D? Taking out each organ to understand its anatomy, without a cadaver?

With VR and AR, this is possible!

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Anatomy is an important and challenging part of a healthcare professional’s education.

Medical professionals can train in anatomy with VR/AR – no longer depending solely on concepts in books and limited interactions with cadavers.

This saves hospitals and medical schools a tremendous amount of money.

Furthermore, it gives students, residents, and experienced M.D./Surgeons alike, a more in-depth, “hands-on” training. This leads to well trained medical professionals.

But don’t take our word for it: 

A new study published online by Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research found that VR training for medical students significantly increased procedural accuracy.

Moreover, it increased the completion rate of an intramedullary (IM) tibial nail procedure when compared to using a technique guide alone. 

2. Augmented Reality as a medical education tool

VR isn’t the only way to educate students – AR is also a great contender.

In fact, John Hopkins University found that many students in the medical field are using AR to learn.

One example is overlaying three-dimensional representations of human anatomy on a physical body. Students can see where the organs, skeletal, and nervous systems go on a real human model.

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3. Building Empathy for patients in VR

Healthcare professionals are always working to establish good rapport with patients. Yet, it is difficult to ‘train’ in empathy.

The University of Michigan addressed this issue by including 3D ‘virtual patients’ in their educational program.

In the simulation, students evaluate the ‘patients’ symptoms. They strive to understand their patient’s pain and practice delivering unpleasant news more effectively.

Older patients with underlying conditions can be an even greater challenge when it comes to empathy.

Thus, the University of New England saw the opportunity to help students understand age-related issues in VR.

The results were exceptional.

Students gained increased empathy and improved ‘bedside manner’ when relating to patients in the older demographic.

4. VR/AR technology for Assessing Patients

Surgery is a complicated job. Surgeons need to be well-prepared before performing any operation and any tool that can help in this process is crucial to their success.

It is now possible to plan operations in a spatially-aware 3D environment using VR/AR.

This results in fewer complications during the actual surgery. They are able to walk through the entire surgery digitally before ever stepping into the OR.

Advanced facilities and operation units are using AR to display patient stats over the body (in real-time). This helps in the entire surgical process.

VR can even help doctors assess patients’ visual impairment after significant head injuries. SyncThink achieves this using eye-tracking technology in conjunction with specific algorithms. Their invention won the “Breakthrough Device Designation award” from the FDA.

SyncThink VR medical device
Photo curtesy of: Lorin Granger

5. VR/AR to ease Patient Anxiety

Surgery is a horrifying experience for many patients. They can often face panic attacks, anxiety, and fear before their surgery.

Subjects experiencing anxiety are calmed through VR.

In VR they can see exactly what is going on in their bodies and how the procedure will correct their ailments. VR reduces their anxiety levels and builds trust in the surgeon. Their fear of the unknown is reduced through the immersive experience.

In situations where patients need to undergo chemotherapy VR can serve as a great distraction. This study found that patients had an altered sense of time when in VR thus making the process more enjoyable.  

“Patients stated that using VR made the treatment seem shorter and that chemotherapy treatments with VR were better than treatments without the distraction intervention.”

Virtual Reality: A Distraction Intervention for Chemotherapy. Susan M. Schneider, PhD, RN, AOCN® and Linda E. Hood, MSN, RN, AOCN®

6. VR as a rehabilitation tool

Another excellent application is treating patients with spinal cord injuries that result in complete paralysis.

In one study by Duke University patients used VR in combination with haptic feedback to regain partial or full mobility. 

“Nicolelis explained that using virtual reality, a haptic display allows the patients to visualize when their legs touch the ground or are extended. Not only could the patients walk with their robotic legs, some even learned to move their legs by themselves.”

-Mark Stone, Forbes Magazine

This study scratches the surface in what will be possible with future VR assisted therapy for patients.

7. VR for Alzheimer’s Care

VR creates a calming environment for Alzheimer’s patients thus easing their discomfort. Just like “music therapy” for Alzheimer’s patients, VR can be used to create familiar settings for a patient. This increases their quality of life.

On the other side a company called “Embodied Labs” developed an experience for caregivers or family members. This experience shows them what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s, which in turn helped the caregivers develop deeper empathy for the patient. Thus providing better care.

8. Online Healthcare

Since COVID-19, the online healthcare industry has seen significant growth.

The VR/AR technology is starting to find its place in the online healthcare industry too. 

Many developers are creating mobile and computer apps in the areas of rehabilitation, behavioral therapy, phobia treatment, and meditation/wellness.

VR for phobia treatment in medical field

Patients can attend VR sessions with their practitioners while algorithms evaluate the results. The information collected is then sent to their doctors for diagnosis.

VR/AR Technology’s Worth in the Healthcare Industry

As you can see, there are many ways that VR/AR is rendering breakthroughs in the healthcare industry.

The VR/AR healthcare market is still young, and the technologies are rapidly developing.

Leading brands like Phillips and Sony are jumping into the VR/AR healthcare game. And companies like SyncThink and Augmedix have made their place in this growing market.

“Global augmented reality and virtual reality market in healthcare industry is expected to reach $10.82 billion by 2025, representing a remarkable 2019-2026 CAGR of 36.1%. Augmented Reality (AR) technology accounts for a larger market share and will grow at 38.38% annually over the forecast years, faster than the Virtual Reality (VR) technology in healthcare domain.”

Global Healthcare Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Market by Technology, Offering, Device Type, Application, End-user, and Region 2019-2026: Trend Forecast and Growth Opportunity

Now is the time to start thinking about how VR can help your company

This is just the tip of the iceberg!

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VR/AR have so many useful applications in the healthcare and medical fields. From physical rehabilitation, to doctor training, to patient care – now you have a few examples to share with your colleagues.

But there’s so much more,

Way more than we could include in one article.

If you want to know how your company specifically could use VR or AR our team is happy to help. We are available to consult on any projects you have, even if it’s the beginning of your journey into these technologies.

And when you are ready to build out your experience, we’ve got your back. Our company specializes in helping businesses become industry leaders in Immersive technologies. We assist with the whole process from inception and ideation to development and launch.

At Reflective Brands, we strive to keep technology human and help companies mindfully become industry leaders for good. If your team needs support in understanding how to best implement an immersive strategy let’s talk.