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Healthcare Virtual Reality Enhances Clinician, Patient Satisfaction

Healthcare virtual reality is a versatile technology that can significantly impact education and patient engagement.

healthcare virtual reality

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations are considering new technology as innovative IT infrastructure tools make themselves available. Healthcare virtual reality (VR) is no exception and as its medical uses grow, more providers are considering it as part of their digital transformation.

The healthcare virtual reality is expected to grow at a CAGR of 54.5 percent through 2023, according to a recent Research and Markets report.

While the initial uses of VR in healthcare may not be immediately apparent, its applications can be spread through many facets in healthcare including surgery, education, pain management, rehabilitation, and therapy.

VR and closely related augmented reality (AR) technology are quickly progressing through the healthcare industry. A Kalorama Information report released late last year indicated that while healthcare organizations have not had the need or budget for VR, that view is beginning to change.

The Kalorama report discovered that the most effective use of VR and AR is in surgical settings to assist surgeons. The technology can give surgeons better precision and also help enhance robot-assisted surgery. Using technology this way can reduce the risk of patient harm through medical error which is currently one of the leading causes of death in the US.

“Augmented reality or ‘mixed reality,’ integrates, injects or superimposes virtual elements and visualizations over the real world,” Kalorama report authors explained. “Via virtual reality in healthcare applications, VR technology is able to produce VEs such as an operating room, surgical site, patient anatomy, or therapeutic simulation.”

The report qualified VR and AR applications based on their ability to manipulate medical imaging data or other inputs to generate virtual environments or overlay virtual elements over the user’s sight.  

VR and AR  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 potential human error during surgery.

The technology is not meant to replace surgeons;, it’s meant to provide them with more accurate information and visuals to help doctors make faster and more accurate decisions.

Medical education is another practical application of VR and AR in healthcare. Realistic surgical simulators can better prepare student surgeons for operating on actual patients by providing realistic views of surgical situations.

The report, Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education, said that there are many challenges in healthcare education and augmented reality can provide learning opportunities where “virtual learning experiences can be embedded in a real physical context.”

The Augmented Reality in Healthcare Education study found that 96 percent of the material studied claimed that AR is useful for improving healthcare education. The material outlined benefits of educational AR to include decreased amount of practice, reduced failure rate, improved performance accuracy, accelerated learning, and better understanding of special relationships.

VR and AR also have many patient facing uses as well for pain management, therapy, and can even be used to reduce fear in patients.

VR can be used for patient care and help patients gain a better understanding of their health. By showing the patient a virtual tour of their medical condition, such as a gastrointestinal test, she can better understand her medical condition.

Another example is controlling the environment to manipulate how a patient views something. For example the hematology clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital uses VR to put patients in a calming or entertaining environment while they undergo painful needle pricks and other treatment.

VR can also be used to put patients into a fearful environment to overcome it for therapeutic purposes.

VR and AR are complex technologies but are proving their worth in a healthcare setting. Visually enhancing clinician and patient experiences can significantly improve outcomes and both patient and clinician satisfaction.

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