Columbus, OH — Occasionally a new technology comes along and catches the attention of the whole world, garnering hype and obtaining the minds and wallets necessary for it to flourish. There are countless conversations about its promise, and more importantly, its ability to deliver on those promises. Will this be the thing that changes it all? Or is this another flash in the pan destined to fail, making room for the next big idea? While it seems like there are more of these occurrences than there used to be, few are widely adopted enough to consider them successes. Most won’t have 300 years to sort out their role in the world like the wheel did, instead having to prove themselves as both useful and able in a relatively short time.
Enter virtual reality. The new kid on the block in the world of entertainment promising to transform how we watch movies, play videogames, communicate remotely, and escape our current realities. An idea that has been in the works since 1960, making leaps and bounds during the 80's, VR didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. It’s an idea that’s been built upon as the technology caught up to the dream. Now, virtual reality is showing it was worth the wait.
Virtual reality in healthcare is an emerging market where people are applying the technology in every way imaginable. VR therapies have been one of the more prevalent uses to emergein the past few years, addressing everything from chronic pain to autism. It’s already being used to treat PTSD, phobias, and psychiatric conditions. These treatments coupled with psychological intervention have proven effective, with positive results.
Having your own experiences altered through VR is part of its appeal. But what if you could also use it to experience what it’s like to be someone else entirely? Embodied Labs has done exactly this in the hopes that it’ll help bridge the gap between people and their understanding of one-another. To accomplish this, they created a virtual experience to simulate the final moments of a dying patient’s life to help nurses, hospice workers, and students understand what that might be like for the people they’re caring for. This unapologetically honest look at a difficult topic has proven to help the viewer be more empathetic to the ones portrayed within the headset. Not everyone is convinced of this method’s effectiveness, or if the effects are lasting. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom argues that empathy can be manipulated, which makes it exploitable. While more research is certainly needed, using VR to help create a stronger human connection is certainly a new way to approach using a headset.
As more and more companies emerge in the healthcare VR marketplace, some bigger names will also throw their hats in the ring. At this year’s CES, AARP announced that it will be trialing VR for remote healthcare. This is to help address the nearly 20% of people 65 and older who have skipped visits, prescription fills and medical tests due to cost. The hope is that VR will provide a cheaper alternative while providing caregivers with a better way to communicate with the patients.
Why This Matters
Now that virtual reality headsets become more accessible and less cumbersome to use, we are seeing people exploring their potential. This is letting virtual reality stretch its legs and become more than just a tool of distraction. In healthcare alone virtual reality and augmented reality is expected to be a $5.1 Billion industry by 2025 with a CAGR of +53% over the next five years. Aside from the economic incentive to pay attention to VR, the applications of the rising technology are equally interesting.
Virtual reality is making its mark all across healthcare. From medical education, therapies, professional training, pain relief… everywhere you look, really. With its growing popularity in the mainstream, its versatility in healthcare and the improvements in the virtual and augmented spaces, VRs future is looking pretty bright.