Virtual reality has moved from science fiction to marketable consumer product astonishingly quickly, partly because the incorporation of the smartphone into the technology makes it accessible, if not ubiquitous. It’s looking more and more like those who bet that virtual reality is here to stay, and not a flash-in-the-pan trend, made the smart bet.
But what about in healthcare? Could a technology primarily associated with gaming turn out to be a serious therapeutic tool? Well, a growing number of doctors, researchers, and entrepreneurs think it can. Some are even starting to collect efficacy data to that effect. In May, Kalorama reported that the virtual and augmented reality market in healthcare grew from $525 million in 2012 to an estimated $976 million in 2017.
Virtual reality is showing promise in treating pain, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, smoking cessation, and even at the dentist’s office. Below, we’ve rounded up 15 VR use cases, the companies or research institutions that are investigating them, and the successes they’ve had so far. Read on for the whole list.
1. Surgical Training
As far as medical understanding and technological advancements have come, educating current and prospective doctors is still largely done the old-fashioned way: books, tests, pens and paper. Virtual reality enthusiasts aren’t standing for it, especially when it comes to training medical professionals for surgery.
Fed up with the almost comical-sounding current method of surgical training, – which take place at a few specialized centers around the country and requires the use of expensive artificial body parts – a few innovators are offering a new option.
Osso VR, which just raised $2 million, provides software that creates a virtual operating room on VR platforms like Oculus Rift/Touch or the HTC Vive. Practicing surgeries in virtual reality allows surgeons to get in more reps, particularly on complicated procedures.
“Right now the way they’re doing it is people have these devices in their trunks, you can only fit like one in and they drive around with hundreds of dollars in disposable, simulated bones to allow people to practice one procedure once,” founder and CEO (and trained orthopedic surgeon) Dr. Justin Barad said last year in a presentation at Health 2.0. “I’ve done surgeries where I just sat there reading the instruction manual like we were putting together IKEA furniture because people don’t have a training option that’s something like this. So I really hope this is the future of medical training to increase patient safety, decrease complications, and increase the learning curve for complex medical devices.”
Image Credit: Osso VR