Virtual Reality Is Changing Healthcare

VR Is Changing Healthcare

Abhinav Raj

Abhinav Raj, Writer

VR Is Changing Healthcare. Here Is How.

Across industries, virtual reality (VR) is being leveraged to enhance corporate training procedures, bolster disaster preparedness, and recentlyto improve the quality of life for patients with complex—and simple care needs.

The virtual reality (VR) revolution has been knocking at the doors of the healthcare industry for quite a while now.

With the potential to transport users from the dreary environment of a hospital to meandering trails in the woods, sunny beaches along the shore or in the vicinity of the stunning landscape of Yosemite—VR has massive applications in behavioural therapy for inpatients—including management of stress and anxiety—that are only now being explored.

VR tools have penetrated sectors of the healthcare industry and become an invaluable tool in training, treatment, marketing and generating disease awareness.

Projected to reach $11,657 million in the next six years with a CAGR of 38.3%, VR is inevitably poised to assume a greater role in the healthcare industry.

Here’s a glance into how virtual reality is reshaping how we deliver healthcare.

VR for Mental Health

Part of the reason why VR provides for a deep, immersive experience is that our brains are wired to focus on the stimuli it is being given—which is what grants the tools with an immense therapeutic power to influence patients undergoing challenging procedures.

“Even if you know intellectually that you’re not at the beach, your brain can’t live in two realities at once. Instead, the brain accepts [the stimuli] it’s given,” commented Brennen Spiegel, MD, in an interview with WebMD.

“VR also triggers strong emotions, and we are primed to learn things when they are tied to emotion,” explained the director of Health Services Research at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

The University of Oxford spinoff firm—known as Oxford VR,is capitalizing on the therapeutic potential of virtual reality to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT) for various mental health conditions.

CBT is a well-researched psychological intervention that focuses on developing the mind’s ability to cope with challenging thoughts, behaviours, attitudes and feelings incrementally through exposure to situations that cause it distress. By recognizing negative thought patterns and behaviours, CBT can allow one to restructure thoughts enabling anxiety and phobia—even neutralizing or turning them into joyful ones in the process.

‘Oxford VR social engagement’ platform is enabling people to overcome anxious social avoidance—a disorder prevalent in the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions.

In practice, users are asked to put on a virtual reality headset that leads them to an immersive VR experience. Through a series of guided tasks, users learn to overcome tasks that they encounter in their everyday lives that are known triggers for social avoidance—such as purchasing a bus ticket or shopping for groceries.

Completion of these graded tasks in virtual reality is rewarding and gratifying for patients, and Oxford VR claims that behavioural changes in the VR environment are carried over to the real world—reflected in the everyday lives of patients.

VR in Pediatrics

Surgeries can be a frightening experience—especially when you’re young.

But when the 10-year-old Julia Hollenbeck had to undergo an orthopaedic procedure, she came out of the operating room laughing.

With the help of a VR headset and a few interactive games, Evanston Hospital made a fairly frightening surgical procedure an amusement park ride for Hollenbeck. For the duration of the surgery, the 10-year-old was immersed in a fantasy VR experience of an underwater world—surrounded by sharks, which she found amusing.

Anesthesiologists involved in the procedure noted that virtual reality experiences not just help pediatric patients get more comfortable during surgeries, they also permit doctors to significantly reduce the volume of sedative medication to be administered.

VR’s potential worth in MedTech and the healthcare industry could be enormous—but what may be bigger than its monetary worth is its potential to make lives better.