How Virtual Reality (VR) Is Impacting the Healthcare Industry

Concept of a doctor using VR technology
Credit: Gorodenkoff -

While Virtual Reality (VR) is most commonly associated with gaming, video entertainment and retail, there is a much more significant and deeper impact that this advanced technology is making, and that is in the healthcare industry. In recent years, there are positive outcomes that are being reported by the use of VR on the lives of patients, surgeons and medical professionals.  

Here’s an overview of how VR is impacting the healthcare industry.

In the U.S., pain management is a growing healthcare concern given that an estimated 100 million adults there suffer from chronic pain. An amount of approximately $17.8 billion is spent prescribing pain medication annually. While opioid medications have been used for pain management historically, it suffers from negative side effects such as delays in recovery and increased risk of permanent disability. Its use is further associated with increased hospital admissions, healthcare costs and even deaths. However, despite its flip side, the U.S. consumes 80% of the world’s opioids. In such a scenario, VR emerges as a viable alternative for management of chronic pain in patients with a majority of studies suggesting positive outcomes.

In addition to the management of chronic pain, the virtual reality technology is being used to calm patients before and during painful medical procedures, some of which result in acute pain. In December 2019, use of VR headsets at the St George Hospital in the UK showed that patients using them changed the way they experience anxiety during wide-awake surgery; 100% patients reported that wearing the VR headset improved their overall hospital experience and 94% said they felt more relaxed. Further, 80% felt less pain after wearing the headset and 73% reported feeling reduced anxiety. These are significant statistics.  

The technology is also helping children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In an initiative, the Center for BrainHealth and Yale School of Medicine are collaborating to help young adults with ASD enhance their capacity for learning and developing the skills needed to achieve economic and social independence in life using VR. “Unlike other therapeutic options, such as role-playing, VR represents real-life experiences in a safe, controllable manner that allow for repeated practice and exposure, which is a key element in treatment,” says a study.  

Virtual technology is being used as a tool to increase empathy among the medical students and professionals for the elderly. One such project was done at the University of New England where technology was tested and the results showed that “VR enhanced students’ understanding of age-related health problems and increased their empathy for older adults with vision and hearing loss or Alzheimer’s disease.”

The technology is being applied in training surgeons as well as teaching medical students. A study from Harvard Business Review showed that VR training “improved participants’ overall surgical performance by 230% compared with traditional training methods.” The VR-trained participants were able to complete procedures on average 20% faster and more accurately. While medical students are now being taught using VR, at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, students are learning anatomy and experiencing the clinical environment through a VR anatomy curriculum developed in partnership with Zygote Medical Education. VR technology is being leveraged even for rehabilitation in cases of stroke and neurological conditions.

In addition, the technology has the potential to solve the issue of shortage of physicians. The U.S. will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032, according to data by Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Technologies such as VR can help fill such gaps to some extent through remote training and assistance.

The global VR in the healthcare market is projected to reach $30.40 billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR of 42.4% during 2019-2026.

The companies working in this segment include technology giants as well as start-ups. In January 2020, KT Corporation and the Samsung Medical Center announced an innovative, 5G-powered medical service as an initial step to establishing a 5G smart hospital. Among other things, the hospital will “refine 5G-powered medical technology by applying VR and AR technologies for real-time education.”

In mid-2019, the CAE Healthcare integrated Microsoft HoloLens into its simulation-based training platform that allows physicians to practice ultrasound-guided placement of the world’s smallest heart pump.

Samsung’s Gear VR is designed to implement a simplified seamless VR experience for patients.

Google has developed Google Cardboard, which is a simple and affordable VR tool. In addition, there is the Facebook Oculus Rift, HTC Hive and Lenovo. While an iOS app based on virtual and augmented reality (AR) and its effect on mood and stress is helping veterans manage anxiety.

Osso VR is a VR surgical and medical device training platform. While ImmersiveTouch creates fully explorable 3D VR models from a patient’s own CT and MR data. Psious is a VR platform for psychology and mental health while AppliedVR is one of the most widely used VR platforms. In addition, names such as InTouch Solutions, Atheer, Firsthand Technologies, Medical RealitiesMindmazeEchoPixelSurgical Theater, and 3D Systems (DDD) are working on providing solutions for better patient care, management, treatment and trainings using VR. 

Overall, VR offers an innovative way to advance patient care as well as medical procedures and training. In times to come, the technology will provide a healing touch to patients while sharpening the skills of medical practitioners, thereby adding value to the whole healthcare ecosystem.

Disclaimer: The author has no position in any stocks mentioned. Investors should consider the above information not as a de facto recommendation, but as an idea for further consideration. The report has been carefully prepared, and any exclusions or errors in reporting are unintentional.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Prableen Bajpai

Prableen Bajpai is the founder of FinFix Research and Analytics which is an all women financial research and wealth management firm. She holds a bachelor (honours) and master’s degree in economics with a major in econometrics and macroeconomics. Prableen is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA, ICFAI) and a CFP®.

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