Next Generation Simulation in Virtual Reality Healthcare

Healthcare is one of the leading industries for virtual reality (VR) applications. From $2.70 billion in 2020, the VR healthcare industry will grow to nearly $41 billion by 2026, a fifteen-fold increase in less than a decade.

One of the main reasons virtual reality has so much potential for healthcare is its simulation capabilities. It allows researchers and healthcare professionals to simulate visual information in an accurate and interactive way that is not possible with traditional media.

For example, one could simulate specific parts of the human anatomy instead of having to fabricate physical models to conduct medical research. The simulations could also help relieve stress and anxiety.

In 2021, the Yale Center for Medical Simulation received US$1 million in funding to explore how simulations could help reduce physician stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are Next Generation Simulations in Virtual Reality Healthcare?

Next-generation simulations refer to 3D visualizations of inanimate objects, people, living organisms, and digital designs with which users can interact, maneuver, and manipulate.

The healthcare industry relies on the representation and understanding of complex data, from the molecular structures of drugs and therapeutic treatments to the various environmental conditions that impact the human body. With so many variables, it is difficult to accurately represent the data and study its behavior under different conditions.

This is where next-generation simulations can help by enabling reliable data representations managed using immersive technologies, while reducing costs through reuse. Here are the benefits in more detail.

Benefits of Simulations in Virtual Reality Healthcare

By exploiting simulations, it is possible to:

  • Lower the costs – Simulations can significantly reduce healthcare training and demonstration costs while increasing their impact. The design and software used for simulations can be applied multiple times, in multiple different use cases.

  • Increase impact – Interactive simulations are a better learning aid than 2D images or traditional physical models. Indeed, healthcare professionals can actually interact with the simulation through gestures, zoom in and out, highlight different areas, etc., to reinforce information with visual aids.

  • Reduce distractions – Immersive simulations in VR environments provide a distraction-free space for healthcare students and physicians. Inside virtual reality, the user can focus on the visual material at hand and collaborate with others without being disturbed by interruptions from the real environment.

  • Explore new areas – There are limits to what can be created and simulated using VR technology. For example, healthcare researchers can explore new molecular structures for experimental drugs without having to build prototypes. This streamlines the medical research process and speeds up drug approval.

  • Improve soft skills – Learners can also take advantage of simulated environments to hone soft skills. Difficult and unexpected scenarios can be recreated in virtual reality with an authentic sense of urgency essential to developing leadership and teamwork skills, and can provide a safe environment in which to learn them.

  • Provide hands-on experience – Hands-on learning is not always possible for rare or high-risk patient scenarios. In such cases, simulation technologies offer a viable alternative.

Virtual Reality Healthcare Use Cases That Leverage Next-Generation Simulations

There are several ways to implement simulation for virtual reality healthcare:

Simulated clinical environments

Early stages of clinical trials can use next-generation simulation to test multiple patient-therapy combinations and find an optimal match.

Clinical trials can be long and complex processes, resulting in extremely costly delays for healthcare organizations and patients. Simulations can shorten clinical trials and speed up drug discovery.

Documentation on training and skills

VR/MR simulations are reusable in nature, which means healthcare and nursing students can develop their skills multiple times through a standardized process.

Instructors can document learners’ skill levels at each cycle and gradually improve over time. Simulations and virtual reality healthcare make skill development more structured and formal, often with phenomenal results.

Preparation of complex procedures

Physicians and surgeons can prepare for complex procedures using next-generation simulations. This applies especially to rare and high-risk scenarios, where preparation is essential but the precise conditions of the patient are difficult to mimic.

Again, the standardized nature of the simulation allows trainers to use the modules multiple times, until a learner’s skills are perfected.

Collaboration and brainstorming

Simulations can also be used in collaborative environments, such as when multiple stakeholders work together to refine a drug design.

The simulation provides a consistent and accurate representation of information to all stakeholders in real time so they can share their ideas.

Therapy for stress and anxiety

Simulated environments can help alleviate stress by disconnecting healthcare professionals from the stressful triggers that surround them on a daily basis.

These professionals must spend more than the typical 9-5 hours that apply to others, especially in extremely difficult conditions. Simulations can create an immersive and tranquil environment that has therapeutic benefits.

Companies offering simulation solutions

Although simulation technology is still young, several companies are exploring how it could make a difference in virtual reality healthcare.

One such company is SimX, which offers patented technology for collaborative learning in a virtual reality environment. It contains more than 300 predefined components for the healthcare sector, including more than 120 simulated procedures for doctors and nurses.

PaleBlue is another virtual reality and simulation company that develops solutions for virtual reality healthcare, which offers an affordable cardboard virtual reality device that can be used by both doctors and patients.

Oxford Medical Simulation, a virtual reality healthcare company, provides virtual solutions for healthcare education and assessment. It offers solutions for nursing, medicine, mental health and pediatric procedures, as well as distance learning and assessment solutions.

As virtual reality and associated technologies such as augmented and mixed reality evolve, more and more companies will emerge to push the boundaries of healthcare innovation.

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