Healthcare Virtual Reality Potential Grows for Therapy, Surgery


By Elizabeth O’Dowd

October 06, 2017 – Interest in healthcare virtual reality (VR) continues to spread as new VR services continue to be introduced to health IT infrastructure, according to a recent ABI Research report.

The report predicted that healthcare VR will generate $8.9 million in 2017 and grow to generate $285 million in 2022.

Healthcare VR is deployed in four key areas: therapy, training, surgery, and research.

“The immersive experience provided by VR is being used in a variety of healthcare and medical applications ranging from pain and stress management therapy to medical training and surgical preparations,” report authors explained. “While many VR applications in the healthcare sector are still niche, growth is being driven by increased interest from medical professionals, hospitals, and medical institutions.”

Healthcare VR is currently used mostly for therapy. Therapeutic applications are used to help patients with disorders such as PTSD by putting them into immersive VR simulations to help reduce anxiety.

Using VR for therapy has produced positive results, according to the study. The success of the VR therapy applications prompted organizations to look into developing VR applications for other medical uses.

Recent healthcare VR applications include the FDA approved MindMaze VR rehabilitation platform, Kortex stress and sleep management VR platform, and EyeSync eye movement tracking system.

“Non-medical therapeutic applications which usually don’t require strict regulations compared to medical therapies are growing in the consumer segment too,” ABI Research Industry Analyst Khin Sandi Lynn said in a statement. “VR applications such as smoke cessation, sleep management, stress management, and memory improvement for the elderly are increasingly used by consumers for their general health.”

VR applications for medical and surgical training are also gaining momentum. Simulated training programs can give users a more realistic training experience that can be repeated as needed. The VR training apps can also save organizations money by cutting back on the number of trainers needed.

However, the VR technology may not be developed enough to offer the accuracy needed for surgical training.

“Despite deployments of VR in surgical applications such as surgical preparation, many professionals believe that surgical applications require very high demand in accuracy, and realistic simulations,” explained the report. “The current VR quality may not be enough to provide such demands for complicated applications like surgery, however, VR works efficiently in therapeutic and training applications.”

A Kalorama report from earlier this month also touched on the growth of healthcare VR, focusing on using augmented reality for medical applications.

“In its earlier manifestation, virtual reality was hardly equipped for the medical arena,” said Kalorama report authors. “Physicians didn’t have the time, hospitals didn’t have the space and budgets didn’t have the money to fully entertain VR’s potential in healthcare.”

Augmented reality does not submerge the user into a full VR environment. It uses the world around the user and superimposes layers of virtual elements over actual items.

In a surgical setting it could be used for both training and providing the surgeon with patient information that may not be visible on the surface. Augmented reality can also help surgeons perform more accurate surgery faster.

Virtual and augmented reality in surgery are closely tied with surgical navigation and robot-assisted surgery. Organizations hope to eventually embrace virtual and augmented reality to help surgeons work more quickly and accurately, and eliminate human error during surgery.

The potential for VR has already been realized for therapy applications and organizations are showing more interest in using VR for medical and surgical training. However, the accuracy of the VR technology needs to be extremely accurate for it to be a valuable training or assisting tool. As the technology develops over the next several years its usefulness for training will grow. 


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