By Tatyana Shavel, technology analyst, Iflexion.
The essential purpose of virtual reality or VR is to shut down the real world and immerse a person into a different environment, be it a fantasy or just a place far away. While it is mostly used in entertainment, this technology gets wide adoption across other industries, including construction, education, retail and healthcare.
According to a recent report, the global healthcare VR market is expected to massively grow by 2023 with a 54.5 percent CAGR. The researchers name a range of major VR applications anticipated to drive even more investments in upcoming years, including PTSD treatment, rehabilitation, education and training, and surgery simulation. The actively growing market creates a supportive environment for better collaboration among payers, clinical stakeholders, and varied VR development companies, naming Osso VR, Iflexion, Psious and others.
Even though the VR technology is quite young, and healthcare isn’t always daring to adopt cutting-edge approaches and add them to the traditional practice, it is just too promising to ignore.
On the one hand, there are multiple scientific papers debating over virtual reality’s use in pain and anxiety management, mental health improvement, fall prevention in elder population and eye microsurgery training, among the others. On the other hand, we witness market-ready products encouraging health specialists to revolutionize care delivery. In this article, we will review the most promising VR applications in healthcare, backed by real-world solutions.
Compensating and treating vision impairment
In a fall 2018 update, WHO estimated 1.3 billion people having vision impairment problems with the majority of them being over 50 years. As the demographic trend moves to the aging nation, we can expect this number to increase significantly within the next decade and beyond. Regardless of the visual impairment form and its cause, people can experience difficulty and discomfort in performing everyday tasks.
While proper therapy, prescription glasses or surgery can stop further vision deterioration in some cases, people still may have to deal with episodes of blurred vision, tunnel vision, and blind spots.
VR technology is ready to help individuals with different vision impairment types, including lazy eye and low vision associated with age-related macular degeneration. Virtual reality can amplify the world around people to assist them in reading, gardening, working, cooking – basically living their lives comfortably and safely. In particular, a range of products, such as IrisVision and Vivid Vision, is able to:
- Monitor the surrounding’s light level and adjust it to create the balanced brightness, compensating for either too dim or too intense ambiance.
- Help patients with lazy eye to overcome their condition. VR can deliver a different image to each eye and teach the brain to use both eyes equally.
- Measure the loss of spatial frequencies and fill in missing details, helping people to pull through blind spots and tunnel vision.
- Remap the surroundings to allow the users to magnify particular objects without losing the environmental awareness.
With virtual reality, people who have to deal with innate or acquired vision impairment conditions can remain in their routine or explore new life opportunities without holding back.
Relieving hospitalization experience
Hospitalization isn’t a joyride, because patients are limited in movement, food choice, have a specific day regimen, and also need to undergo certain procedures. They may need support in any time across the full length of stay, from admission and familiarization with the environment to discharge and follow-up planning.
Virtual reality can cover the whole inpatient experience for pediatric, teenage, and adult patients. When the person gets admitted, they can have a virtual tour across the hospital with explanations and details about their stay.
During the painful, uncomfortable, or plain boring procedure, patients can get immersed in a game, a fantasy scenery, or a dream-like travel destination. Their focus is shifted, and so pain sensations will feel distant and less real. Such companies as AppliedVR and IKONA focus on creating personalized distractions for patients in the hospital.
Upon the discharge, each patient can get a VR therapeutic education session with insightful information about their condition, medication plan, needed nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Gaining a solid understanding of their next moves, patients feel more confident in their future and satisfied with the provided care.
Offering medical training for elderly care specialists
Sometimes, it can be challenging for young physicians and nurses to understand and address the needs of elder patients. The age gap can create an undesired disconnection between them. However, there is a way to help health specialists walk in their patients’ shoes, meet difficulties in the daily life of an older person with some disabilities.
Virtual reality can create an immersive environment and help younger medical professionals grow old instantly, boosting their empathy. Companies such as Embodied Labs provide healthcare organizations with a number of VR stories in the first-person perspective.
These stories can guide a care team member through a particular episode from an older person’s life, for instance, transitioning from early to late Alzheimer’s stages, experiencing hearing loss, developing vision impairment, or getting diagnosed with terminal illness. The specialists can interact with their surroundings, objects, and people in the scenery, learning about the patients’ challenges firsthand.
There are only a few natural-born caregivers. Virtual reality can multiply their numbers by enhancing the abilities of young specialists, giving them an opportunity to live through a range of older people experiences. Sometimes, you can turn a job into a calling just by wearing a VR-set.
Making the real world a better place with VR
Virtual reality gets righteous adoption across different clinical domains, introducing unique experiences to both patients and their caregivers. It can be either effective as a support for traditional medicine or become the last resort when current treatment approaches are powerless.
From helping people with visual impairment remain fully-functional to allowing young health specialists literally walk in elderly shoes and making the hospital bed experience more enjoyable, virtual reality takes healthcare to another level. The best thing about it is we’ve already passed through the sci-fi part of the VR era; now it’s just another technology-driven tool – closer to an MRI scanner than a teleport gun.