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Believe it or not, virtual reality is not just a ‘fad’ or the next big trend and many healthcare institutions are already using this technology in some capacity. In fact, recent statistics show that more than 240 hospitals in the United States are using virtual reality to assist various health-related procedures and help patients visualize and understand their treatment plans. The VR/ AR market in healthcare will reach $5.1 billion by 2025.
The truth is, the role of virtual reality is hard to define but healthcare is one of the major adopters of this technology which can help with skills training, treatment for phobia and even surgery simulation. On the other hand, pain management is a common focus and scientific studies indicate how virtual reality can help alleviate stress and anxiety for patients experiencing acute pain.
Although it might seem like an extravagant or expensive solution, VR is also surprisingly affordable and certainly accessible to the general public. With so many experts recommending these methods, it’s fair to say that every hospital should soon be able to offer this alternative to patients.
But you might be wondering what all of this looks like?
In order to better understand what VR technology can do, we must also know the difference better virtual reality and augmented reality. After all, these two are not the same and often confused for each other.
Virtual reality creates an immersive experience by providing the user with images of 3D-environments. As part of this virtual experience, the user can sometimes change or alter the appearance of the environment. As for augmented reality, this simply adds graphics or sound to a real-life environment and AR glasses are then used to bring the experience to life.
With this in mind, here are the most common methods in which virtual reality is used in healthcare:
Head-Mounted Display – You have likely seen one of these before and HMDs are those big, heavy-duty goggles with earphones attached to them. Needless to say, this provides a surround-sound and visual experience.
Smart Tech Glasses – Smart glasses might look like regular glasses, but they display information which can enable a physician to add critical data to the patient’s electronic health record. We have also witnessed prototype models which should also allow these glasses to use similar features to the headset mentioned above.
Desktop Virtual Reality – Mostly used for training, desktop VR technology is an effective way to simulate complicated programs and procedures.
Haptic Gloves and Treadmills – Users can physically move around inside the virtual reality experience and move object with these incredibly smart gloves.
And this only begins to explain the real benefits of virtual reality in healthcare…
Last year we published an article regarding physical therapists using virtual reality to ease patients’ physical suffering after serious injuries. As part of the VR program, the therapist used three-dimensional images to gain a better understanding and certainty in terms of how nerves work in the human body. Later, she used this program to explore images of peaceful environments and this process allowed for improved breathing and relaxation. In another study, VR has also shown significant promise in allowing stroke patients to practice and relearn daily activities.
With this in mind, virtual reality technology is also fantastic for distracting children. When you think about it, this is incredibly relevant for parents who struggle to calm the nervousness associated with blood tests, flu shots and other routine procedures. Now, that’s not to say there is no pain involved but rather to explain how VR technology is increasingly beneficial to the healthcare industry.
Meanwhile, a science teacher was recently prescribed with an opioid called oxycodone in the aftermath of surgery for no less than 19 broken bones. However, worried that he was becoming dependent on the drugs, Bob Jester decided to try virtual reality technology as an alternative. Long story short, he connected his headset to a VR smartphone app and discovered that the pain subsided significantly during the process. One year later, Jester was no longer using any opioids.
As you may know, opioids are commonly used for prescriptions in the United States in spite of being the supposed cause of more than one hundred deaths every day.
At the same time, even the big boys are getting in on the act and medical virtual reality is one of the fastest-growing and most captivating technologies in recent times.
For example, Johnson & Johnson now have an Institute dedicated to VR teaching for doctors and medical students. For the most part, these training modules focus on orthopedic surgery such as total hip replacement or hip fracture and according to the head of the institute, more than 80% of surgeons who used the technology have said that they would like to use it again.
We can also see this same transition elsewhere in the world and many leading universities are investing heavily in the research and development associated with VR. In the United Kingdom, the University of Chester has officially partnered with the Countess of Chester Hospital which is now using VR headsets to help stroke victims re-learn certain daily tasks or activities.
Financially speaking, these efforts also make a lot of sense, for virtual reality technology can result in huge long term savings in terms of both time and money.
In spite of clear progress and advanced techniques, virtual reality technology is still in its infancy. For this reason, many people and even experts find it hard to think about this technology as anything more than a fad, trend or the latest buzzword.
At the same time, it’s most important to remember that beyond all the hype and speculation, these buzzwords are real and this virtual reality technology is already proving to enrich and enhance the lives of patients all over the world.
Interested in Virtual Reality healthcare initiatives? Check out the ‘Best health gadgets displayed at CES 2020’.