How is medical virtual reality changing healthcare?

Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to transform any industry that relies on hands-on interactions, education, manufacturing, and especially healthcare.

The virtual reality healthcare market is expected to reach $42.8 billion by 2028, from just $2.07 billion in 2020, according to a 2021 research report from Verified Market Research.

That’s massive growth of more than 20 times, indicating both strong potential and steady demand. One of the key areas of VR development that could change healthcare is the rise of medical VR systems.

What is Medical Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a technology that creates a fully immersive 3D environment where the user can interact with the world around them, others through 3D avatars, and participate in realistic experiences.

It is usually delivered via head-mounted displays (VR headsets) and controllers that allow users to navigate the virtual world.

Medical virtual reality refers to the application of technology for medical purposes, whether as an alternative to traditional therapy, as a way to increase the effectiveness of therapy, or to address unresolved patient concerns.

Medical Virtual Reality is enabling the industry to leverage technology for health treatments and enhance therapy sessions for physical and mental well-being.

This is in addition to other applications such as virtual reality surgical training and virtual product design for medical equipment and clinical instruments. In medical virtual reality, immersive technology is a central part of the therapeutic process.

Here are some examples of how medical virtual reality can be useful for real-world use cases:

5 Ways Medical Virtual Reality Is Changing Healthcare

Virtual reality could reduce pain levels experienced during medical procedures

Research is ongoing to determine if virtual reality could reduce the degree of pain experienced by patients during medical procedures.

Not only would this make procedures more comfortable, but it would also reduce the need to use opioids and painkillers, which could be long-term habit forming.

Patients could put on a VR headset that provides engaging visual experiences while undergoing procedures like dental surgery. This might make the procedure tolerable and even comfortable with just basic anesthesia.

In a 2021 experiment, researchers in Poland found that patients who put on a VR headset and viewed images of Icelandic landscapes during a rigid cystoscopy procedure experienced significantly less pain than those who didn’t wear a headset.

Virtual reality could ease the therapy process for anxiety and depression

Virtual reality provides a safe space where users can move around and interact with a virtual environment. He can recreate social scenarios while avoiding risks or anxieties.

For example, by donning a VR headset, a person could be transported to a restaurant populated by AI-powered avatars (digital humans). The user can interact with confidence, which acts as a gateway for other therapies.

Japanese Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma recently teamed up with American BehaVR to explore the possibilities of medical virtual reality in this use case.

The two companies are developing prescription digital therapy solutions that could aid in the treatment of social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and major depressive disorder (MDD).

Virtual reality could fuel new therapy programs for veterans with PTSD

Medical Virtual Reality is also creating a new form of therapy called Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), which helps patients address their mental health issues by allowing them to face and expose stressors. to these triggers in a safe environment.

It helps VR users discuss their trauma in more detail with therapists, and doctors can help them overcome trauma by understanding and explaining individual triggers.

This has enormous potential to transform veteran therapy because it is difficult to recreate combat experiences for exposure therapy. VRET can generate realistic environments for veterans and therapists alike, even aided by memory-inducing smells. This is the approach taken by the VRET solution, BraveMind, created at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California.

Medical virtual reality makes physiotherapy more accessible

In the period following major surgery or an accident, patients can be confined to a bed, causing challenges to their mental well-being as well as physical discomfort to significantly reduce average recovery times.

It can also help with chronic pain and the challenges of confinement by providing an accessible escape that requires minimal movement.

For example, the patient can put on a VR headset and undergo guided breathing exercises in a soothing, distant environment to escape the immediate confines of the bed.

In addition to traditional rehabilitation, medical virtual reality can help overcome drug addiction.

Addiction often begins as a coping strategy for a person’s real problems, and over time, elements of a person’s life and environment can turn into dangerous triggers.

One of the biggest challenges in rehabilitation is separating the person from these triggers, which can be difficult for those with full-time jobs, children, disadvantaged backgrounds, or places without adequate rehabilitation facilities. .

Medical virtual reality is more accessible and provides a safe space where patients can step away from their triggers, remain anonymous, and receive guided help.

A great example is Help Club, a VR game for Oculus Quest that transports users into a virtual environment to receive peer support, receive advice, and learn healthier coping mechanisms. This medical VR app is called Cognitive Behavioral Immersion™.

And after?

As virtual reality becomes more sophisticated, intuitive, realistic and affordable, the next step is to expose the potential of medical virtual reality to a wider audience.

To achieve this, the industry needs proper oversight, regulations, and approvals from the FDA or equivalent body, which is the next step towards realizing its full potential.

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