VR in Healthcare: Market Trends, Use Cases, and Growth Potential
Where does the healthcare segment of VR stand right now, and what are its key uses? Those are some of the things we will investigate in this article.
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Developed for several decades, virtual reality or VR technology attracted significant attention in 2012 with the launch of HMD (head-mounted play) products, such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. Before then, virtual reality was mostly used in video games and entertainment. The new developments, however, quickly increased the number of possible VR uses. Combined, AR (augmented reality) and VR technologies were valued at $15.3 billion in 2020, with a projected growth of $77 billion by 2027.
Out of all industries adopting virtual reality, healthcare has been among the leading ones. VR and AR in healthcare were valued at 1,206 billion in 2021, and there is a projected increase to $11,658 billion by 2028. So where does the healthcare segment of VR stand right now, what are its key uses, and is there room for new players in the already competitive market? Those are some of the things we will investigate in this article.
VR in Telemedicine
Out of all healthcare segments, telemedicine has been the one that has displayed staggering growth, especially in the post-COVID world. Telemedicine is, of course, not a new trend. Remote diagnosing and treatment have been around since the 19th century. Still, the growth of telemedicine is associated with the growth of technology, including VR.
Virtual reality in telemedicine makes it possible to treat patients who exclusively required in-patient care before. For instance, one of the most innovative uses of VR technology involves the use of a robotic exoskeleton that allows the doctor to get a clear picture of the state of the patient’s limbs while being miles away.
Virtual Reality for Education and Training
One of the most popular ways of using virtual reality in medicine is for training and educating healthcare providers. Nurses and doctors alike can use virtual reality as a way of training and learning that offers real-life experience.
Virtual Reality Simulations in Surgeon Training
The majority of operations in modern-day hospitals and clinics are implemented using a host of instruments and high-technology tools/gadgets. The skills of a surgeon are directly dependent on the years of experience they have in handling various devices in the operating room. Enhancing coordination skills, coherence in actions, and the right workflow needs different forms of practice and training.
Simulators offer an excellent way of teaching and training surgeons, helping nurses as well as other medical experts. With virtual reality, all these people can access top-of-the-class education on various health issues. VR in surgery offers a chance to be wholly immersed in scenarios that mirror a real-life operation.
Virtual reality for teaching has already been implemented in multiple clinics across the globe. Case in point, Stanford University has owned a surgery simulator for the last 17 years. The simulator includes haptic tech that provides sensory feedback to the learner during the simulation. The university’s endoscopic sinus surgery simulation utilizes CT scans from real-life patients to develop 3D models learners can practice on.
Emergency Care and VR
Departments that deal with emergencies can use virtual reality as a tool for apt training. We all know that practice makes perfect, and this is particularly true when training those who respond to emergencies. The majority of lifesaving interventions and procedures are rarely performed in real life despite being critical for patient survival.
Most of the time, medical practitioners have limited time to act to save the life of a patient. For this reason, it is essential for care providers to ensure that their skills and knowledge are up to date. With VR tools, care providers can quickly simulate scenarios that do not occur regularly and apply the skills and knowledge they have gained through theory. In addition to that, they will maintain the efficiency of their lifesaving skills even when they do not have to use them frequently.
Patient education is yet another excellent use of virtual reality in medicine. Often, patients do not adequately understand the procedures that will be done on them, making them more challenging, given that patients are required to provide their consent before any operations.
Rehabilitation, treatments, as well as other procedures are way more effective when the patient adequately understands what to look forward to. VR tech can assist in setting expectations for various phases of a specific treatment plan. Patients can utilize virtual reality to get a clearer comprehension of the changes in their bodies during and after a particular procedure, thus being able to provide informed consent and manage all expectations regarding their recovery.
Revolutionary Ways of Managing Neuropsychological Issues
The pros of VR in healthcare come with new opportunities as far as treating neuropsychological problems is concerned. Neuropsychological issues arise when the brain and nervous system affect the behavior and cognition of a patient. VR tech can be applied in this area in multiple ways.
It is essential for people with different types of phobias to develop strategies that help them cope with their conditions as part of recovery. With virtual reality technology, these patients get a chance to practice their healing approaches in a safe environment, thus getting an excellent way of advancing their recovery process. Many clinics have started using virtual reality to develop situations that exacerbate the condition of a patient in a safe and controlled manner. Therapy sessions can be quickly repeated or stopped based on the progress of the patient. As patients are exposed to different scenarios, they get to practice their coping strategies, which, in turn, improves their chances of handling that particular situation in real life.
Treatment of PTSD
Since 1997, the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies has been using VR to manage and treat PTSD by leveraging various simulations, always war-related. With controlled exposure therapy, war veterans are subjected to traumatic situations to help them to deal with their feelings in a healthy manner.
Virtual reality can be used in pain management. Specifically, it can be used as a distraction therapy tool. Pain is felt when senses are impacted through nerve and brain pathways. Therefore, Virtual Reality video games may be used to distract patients and, consequently, alleviate some of the pain felt during excruciating tasks such as physical therapy or wound care. A good example is SnowWorld, a game developed by the University of Washington to control pain in burn victims. In the game, users throw snowballs at virtual penguins while they listen to Paul Simon.
Assessing the Extent of Brain Damage and Creating Rehabilitation Plans
The use of Virtual Reality in testing neuropsychological impairments may significantly increase patient results’ accuracy. Presently, testing is conducted in controlled environments with particular parameters that often don’t represent real-world situations that patients go through every day. With VR, assessments can better portray real-life situations, and healthcare providers can gain a more precise understanding of their patient’s general condition and behavior.
Training Young Autistic Adults in Social Cognition
Medically, autism is described as a limited activity in the parts of the brain that understand/process social interactions. Therefore, the goal of treatment is to stimulate these areas. VR adaptive treatment creates virtual environments for autistic patients where they can exercise their social behaviors. By using different virtual scenarios, for example, virtual work interviews, virtual dates, etc., trainers can teach how to effectively communicate and help patients with autism understand how to behave in a socially appropriate manner.
The Use of VR in Treating Phantom Limb Pain
Healthcare professionals have come across many cases of patients who report experiencing painful sensations in a limb they have lost after undergoing an amputation. Known as phantom limb pain or simply PLP, it’s something patients can experience even though they know that the arm or leg is not there anymore. It is difficult to understand why and also how these patients continue to experience this pain. As such, it is very challenging to treat this pain using conventional pain medication or painkillers.
VR can be used to develop a 3D world where a phantom limb exists and can be manipulated. With the help of this new virtual world, patients can work to overcome most of the psychological impacts of the condition and better manage the pain.
Providing Therapy to the Disabled and People With Chronic Conditions
With the implementation of VR in medicine, people who have chronic conditions and those with disabilities can now experience things that are considered impossible to experience. This tech has assisted many paralyzed people in walking again and even patients with terminal cancer to fulfill the wishes on their bucket lists. For example, FOVE headsets have been used to assist physically disabled children to play the piano using eye movements. The headset uses an app the company developed that is known as ‘Eye Play the Piano’. These examples are a few of the several therapeutic benefits which VR technology has.
As much as applying VR in this way does not provide treatment for these diseases and conditions, it has the potential for improving the quality of life for patients who are affected and encourages the implementation of new approaches to therapy.
Robotic VR Solutions
This particular use of virtual reality technology stands at the intersection of VR and robotics. Surgical robots are designed to further minimize the invasiveness of surgeries, allowing the surgeon to perform complex operations with an incision that is as tiny as 1.5 cm.
For example, a robot developed by Vicarious Surgical can insert a camera and the required instruments into a small port and provide 360-degree access to the area through the VR headset worn by the surgeon. The robot can fully mimic the shoulder, arm, and hand movements of a surgeon, fulfilling the goals of surgery in the least traumatic way possible.
Developing VR Applications for Healthcare
As a developer, Virtual Reality software tailored for healthcare is a lucrative development path to consider. It is still a growing sector where innovations from technological advancements and further research are bound to happen in the coming years. Sure, the market is expanding at a rapid pace, but it’s not oversaturated to the point where there is no room for new players.
Testing VR Solutions for Healthcare
When developing software solutions, quality assurance needs to go hand in hand with the development process. This is especially true for healthcare VR applications, which thousands of potential providers and patients will rely on for different types of relief and support. This is why testing should be an integral part of developing a VR application for the healthcare industry.
Unlike some tech segments, VR in healthcare is not just a buzzword or a bubble that will burst in a couple of years. The use of virtual reality in healthcare is already helping people who need it the most and will only get more valuable and innovative from here. So whether you are able to take advantage of VR technology, admire it from afar, or actively participate in its development by releasing a new application, the VR healthcare industry is the one to watch.
Published at DZone with permission of Anna Smith. See the original article here.
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