Virtual reality technology isn’t just for entertainment anymore! It has made a huge splash in other industries, particularly healthcare. In 2016, Goldman Sachs projected the 2025 VR market would be valued at $80 billion, with the non-entertainment sector representing almost half of that. Healthcare applications are expected to be the largest component of the non-entertainment VR market. As the market for VR technology grows, the value of VR in healthcare is being recognized and industry leaders and VR innovators are collaborating to conceive, produce, and deploy applications that create entirely new solutions for existing and evolving industry needs. The healthcare industry has already been utilizing virtual reality in 3 exciting areas: neurology, therapy, and education. (Related: augmented reality medical training, VR medical training, AR + VR medical education)
In neurology, virtual reality is being used in rehabilitation, specifically for stroke patients. Virtual therapy exercises can be designed with precise control over the stimulus and the cognitive load that the patient experiences. Interacting with a 3D world within VR provides a more immersive experience that utilizes more senses and more brain power than does 2D virtual therapy practices or therapies with no functional interactivity at all.
VR is also becoming more prevalent in pain management and patient care. A hospital in the UK has begun giving VR headsets to women in early stages of labor, in order to help them relax by immersing themselves in a variety of peaceful environments, including a beach, an underwater scene, and an open prairie with a herd of grazing buffalo. Similar programs are used by hospitals around the world to help with pre-operative anxiety, pain, and depression.
Virtual Reality can be used to conduct psychotherapeutic techniques for mental health patients. VR therapies can provide patients with tools to cope with their limiting thoughts and feelings or gradually introduce situations that encourages the patient to face their fears or troubling thoughts directly. Over time, with repeated exposure to the anxiety-inducing stimuli, the patient can successfully lower their peak of anxiety. These therapies can be highly effective for treating conditions such as PTSD, OCD, phobias, and anxiety.
An increasing number of medical schools are opting to incorporate virtual reality and mixed reality training into their courses. Because the curriculum possibilities within VR are endless, schools are developing a wide array of training content, including virtual cadaver dissections, virtual surgical practice, and virtual emergency training. Converting curricula to a virtual representation creates the opportunity to deepen student comprehension by revealing features such as the operations of living organs. VR training expands the number of participants who can experience the material and extends geographic reach of educators, saving institutions tremendous amounts of money.