Virtual reality (VR) has transformative potential for the healthcare sector by offering a safe, immersive environment where healthcare professionals and patients complete therapies and monitor prognoses.
A 2021 Facts and Factors market research report estimates that VR in healthcare will reach a value of approximately $40.98 billion USD by 2026, up from only $2.70 billion in 2020. However, to unlock its full potential, the industry must first overcome a few initial roadblocks to adoption.
Defining VR Healthcare: An Emerging Technology Field
VR solutions allow healthcare professionals to engage patients with tailored, simulated environments to provide medical education (such as practicing virtual surgery), pain management, or rehabilitation.
It relies on the following technology components:
- Virtual reality hardware – Medical practitioners and patients need to use VR headsets, controls, trackers, and other types of hardware to “enter” immersive digital environments. These devices are often purpose-built for medical use while considering accessibility concerns and use for hands-free environments.
- Virtual healthcare scenes – Scenes are immersive environments that resemble clinical spaces. They ensure spatial accuracy and offer an experience close to real-world surroundings. Common VR healthcare scenes include operating theaters, physiotherapy rooms, and even outdoor settings for mental wellbeing sessions.
- 3D medical tools – VR also replicates medical tools in a digital form, which primarily includes surgical tools for training as well as diagnostics equipment and other industry-specific objects. Expert designers craft these 3D models with a high accuracy level to ensure practical use.
- Digital twin technology – Digital twin technology aids in 3D modeling, but enables a far greater level of precision and accuracy and behaves exactly like their real-world counterparts. VR healthcare relies on digital twins of molecular structures, organs, and even the entire human body.
The technology provides healthcare professionals with an opportunity to learn new skills and refresh existing ones, while not posing any danger to patients. As a result, the healthcare industry is one of the largest adopters of VR, which includes surgery simulation, phobia treatment, and robotic surgery training.
Examples of VR’s Transformative Impact in Healthcare in 2022
While virtual reality involves significant capital investment, its barriers to adoption are decreasing every day. There are several examples of how organizations are rapidly making inroads into VR healthcare in 2022, a trend that is expected to continue for several years to come.
Latus Health is developing a VR hospital
Latus Health is a leading digital healthcare company and it is looking to build an entire clinic or hospital environment in the virtual world.
The company takes inspiration from the development of the Metaverse by companies like Meta and Microsoft, and expects VR hospitals to become commonplace in the future.
Later this year, Latus Health will launch a mental health clinic in virtual reality as the first component of its VR hospital. The program will store patient medical records using blockchain technology, which transfers digital ownership to patients and reduces the risk of data theft.
MyndVR and HTC VIVE announce VR healthcare for seniors
VR healthcare company MyndVR recently partnered with HTC VIVE to introduce a new service called MyndConnect. The platform will allow seniors to connect with family members and friends in the Metaverse, using VR to eliminate the need to travel.
MyndConnect is a platform designed specifically for senior living settings that makes use of HTC VIVE’s new, ultra-lightweight VIVE Flow goggles. The solution addresses the rising awareness around senior care and the impacts of isolation felt during the pandemic period.
XRHealth Raises $10m to build virtual clinics in the Metaverse
XRHealth is a technology company focused on the development of an open and integrated marketplace of healthcare services in the virtual universe. Virtual treatment rooms provide clinicians with more options to grow their businesses, improve access for patients, and may enhance user comfort and simplicity.
XRHealth supports most leading health insurance providers by making its services more affordable. It will play a major role in expanding the healthcare metaverse by providing patients global access to clinicians with relevant treatment information and capabilities.
Interaxon launches a new VR SDK to support brain health innovation
Consumer neurotechnology and meditation company Interaxon will provide VR developers with a software developer kit (SDK) and brain-sensing headband to collect patient data. It intersects VR healthcare with wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT), to enrich the data available to clinicians and healthcare professionals.
The integration of wearable sensor data into digital health experiences drives personalized insights, which will significantly improve the user experience for VR healthcare applications.
Cambridge University adopts HoloPatient Trainer for its medical students
Cambridge University, the National Health Service, and GigXR, are working together to develop a suite of immersive learning solutions for medical students.
Not only will students learn in an immersive, interactive environment, but the learning is benchmarked against outcomes measures. Importantly, students can learn from hyper-realistic content inside a VR world.
David King Lassman, Founder and CEO for GigXR, told XR Today in an interview instructors could watch students as they identified the processes of what the needed to do to treat patients.
He said at the time:
“The instructor could watch the students as they identify the processes of what they need to do to treat this patient. We found that this was extremely impactful and beneficial in training doctors and physicians to cope with the trauma and impact of the pandemic”
Benefits of VR in Healthcare
VR technologies have the potential to vastly improve patient outcomes and make the caregiving experience less stressful for healthcare practitioners.
A 2022 PLOS study found that a few minutes of using VR can reduce stress levels for frontline COVID workers by several points, which has far-reaching implications.
Further, VR healthcare solutions could encourage innovation by enabling experiments and trials in a safe environment, without compromising data accuracy.
As in any sector requiring hands-on interactions (such as manufacturing, education, and tourism), healthcare is also a prime candidate for VR adoption.