Healthcare has already become a more virtual experience thanks to advances in telehealth. But this could just be the start of a much more virtual era for the field.
Virtual reality technology could be poised for much wider application in areas such as surgical training, helping patients manage chronic pain and getting mental health support. Some startups, including MyndVR and Rendever, are targeting senior-focused VR apps to help seniors improve memory and cognitive functions, rehabilitation therapy, and socialization.
VR systems have been around for a long time in the world of gaming and entertainment, but their applications in healthcare are more recent.
Cedars-Sinai researchers have been working with virtual reality for more than five years now, studying its value in a number of areas, including reducing pain, helping cancer patients with anxiety and depression, and supplementing traditional medicine. .
UConn Health, meanwhile, uses smart VR systems from Oculus Quest (a division of Facebook) and PrecisionOS to surgically train orthopedic residents outside of the operating room. The devices allow surgeons to get as many reps as they need in areas where they are weak until they finally achieve proficiency. The technology also saves time and money, since residents can only perform certain procedures on dead bodies once.
The investment community is optimistic about the future prospects of virtual reality in healthcare. A recent market research report estimates a compound annual growth rate of 35% for virtual reality in the healthcare market. By 2026, the report notes, the virtual reality market in healthcare will exceed $40 billion from just $2.7 billion in 2020.
Nevertheless, virtual reality companies still face significant challenges in gaining widespread adoption of the technology in healthcare. Many clinicians want to see more clinical trials and use cases demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of virtual reality for treating patients. Companies will also need to determine how technology will be created in a way that is not only safe for the patient, but also meets the humanistic aspects of medicine – protecting the sacred patient-doctor relationship.