The closing of the gap between the digital/tech sphere and medical/health sphere has been increasing over time, due to the advancement of medicine in general but never before has there been such a paradigm shift in what can sometimes be considered as passive medical learning to active medical learning. VR in healthcare is pushing this shift for the better of the medical industry.

Virtual Reality or VR places an individual into a setting that is entirely imaginary though this may be based on actual life settings. Eg. An in-person clinic experience with a nurse. It is important to recognise that this is different to augmented reality (which has existed for some time) where non real elements are layered over real time experiences for the individual.

There are five major ways in which VR is shifting healthcare.

1. General

As mentioned above there is a transition from passive learning to active learning. By introducing VR into the medical space, one now sees the use of gestures, voice commands and actions. This transforms how medical providers and laypersons experience new situations. This active learning allows an individual to gain a deeper understanding of an experience and therefore helps to create empathy as well as reducing anxiety within an individual. An example of this is teaching lactation. VR has been used to teach expectant mothers about breastfeeding and simulate this in order to reduce anxiety.

2. Medical Training Education

Surgical simulators help surgeons with training. VR provides a visual simulation with feedback technology that allows a surgeon an experience with visual and physical feedback. This creates a safe and engaging clinical education sphere for training healthcare professional by being more immersive and realistic. It also provides a risk free environment to practice life saving procedures.

3. Clinical Healthcare

VR can be used treat chronic illness and disease. Simulations have been used to treat anxiety, PTSD and used as a tool for pain management. BraveMind is a VR management tool that is used to treat PTSD patients. It exposes patients to stimuli that trigger traumatic stress responses. This is considered as VRet – Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy. It is also used in the following areas: phantom limb pain, brain damage assessment, ADHD, social cognition training (young adults with autism).

VR also acts as a non-pharmacological form of analgesia. Simulated experiences help to influence the emotional and attention processes intricate to pain modulation management system. It also helps build patient confidence and managing patient expectations.

4. Consumer Outpatient Market

The market for outpatient care is increasing and shifting towards patient centric and individualised healthcare. Samsung Next Galaxy has created apps that teaches individuals CPR and heimlich maneuvers which is practice in their own spaces. It has also been used for preventative medicine exposing examples of poor lifestyle choices. Eg. Diabetes – patient sees themselves as gaining weight and what implications this has on their health.

5. VR in the future

A way forward for VR in healthcare is to create smart adaptive VR simulations that learn as patients interacts with it. This will help revolutionize a decentralised patient focus. It will change the way healthcare is delivered. VR could also be used as evidence for clinical efficacy. This could help shape clinical human trials.