How will virtual reality in healthcare revolutionize the quality of care patients receive?

While many question whether consumers will value and use virtual reality technologies en mass, VR—without question—has real potential in multiple business industries. One of the most exciting is healthcare, where virtual reality technology is already showing substantial promise to help change how we treat and care for those in need of medical care. It expands beyond medicine alone, to psychology, treatment testing and development, and a range of other applications.

Early research reports certainly hold promise. According to IndustryARC, augmented and VR in healthcare is predicted to hold the potential to generate $2.54 billion globally by 2020.

Transforming Healthcare Academia And Training

A company called Medical Realities is the first to fully embrace consumer-level VR technology and products for medical training and learning. Medical Realities was the first to conduct a livestream of an operation where anyone with a Google Cardboard or other types of VR gear could fully immerse themselves in the procedure.

Virtual reality allows physicians and medical professionals to simulate surgery and other intensive procedures. In doing so, the technology is able to strengthen skill sets at lower cost with the potential for better training. Not only that, but medical practitioners can receive physical and visual feedback when conducting procedures. Data can also help support treatment development, correct human errors, and improve skills – all at a lesser cost than traditional means. Collaboration – either locally or remotely – can draw in new skill sets, approaches and so much more to create a new era of medical training and academia like none other we’ve seen. Companies like Medical Realities and ImmersiveTouch have developed new simulators to help practices.

Better Treatment, Better Health

The MedVR Lab at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies is devoted to the study and advancement of uses of VR simulation technology for clinical purposes. In fields such as psychology, medicine, neuroscience and physical and occupational therapy, the ICT MedVR Lab explores and evaluates areas where VR can add value over traditional assessment and intervention approaches. In psychology, for example, VR has been used to treat bipolar disorders and phobias, while in neuroscience it’s helping with neurological recovery. What this means for patients: better, more accessible and effective treatment, with the potential for less cost and on-demand resources in traditional medicine.

Borderless, Continuous Care

The use of virtual reality in medicine and healthcare has the power to enable patients to gain access to care in ways that were not possible in the past. It’s been said that the average wait time for most doctor visits in the U.S. is 20 days, with many parts of the world requiring up to months before patients can see physicians. Virtual doctor visits could someday help ease the burden on medical resources, enabling medical professionals to see and treat patients remotely – cutting demand and need for in-office visits.

VR may also aid in bringing more healthcare to more people. In many areas of the world, and even in the United States, geographical location prevents access to doctors, particularly those with specific specialties. Virtual office visits and other care could help fill the need.

Other Advancements

Virtual reality is not solely affecting the areas above, but it is impacting many other areas in healthcare, as well. It has great potential for doctors to look at imaging data in 3D and interact with them in new ways. This could potentially make surgery planning much more efficient and accurate.

Dovetailing on VR, augmented reality in healthcare is equally exciting. Hologram house calls where the doctor “sees” patients virtually is just one example. AR is becoming more of an integral part of neurosurgery, where surgeons are able to overlay detailed brain imaging over the patient’s skull to see precisely where they are going to operate, among other applications. Beyond virtual and augmented reality is mixed reality, ultimately where we may see health care go within the next ten years, if not sooner. There are several interesting possibilities for multiple healthcare professionals to enter into a collaborative virtual environment/workspace and work together to solve a healthcare-related challenge at hand.

Of course, the most invigorating aspect in all of this is the hope of providing better, more accessible and cost-efficient healthcare to people around the world. Add to it the role that data can and will play, as well as mobile devices and wearables, and so much more. It’s an incredible time for progress in healthcare, and the future reality of medicine will only continue to advance.