Exploring 3 Benefits of VR in Healthcare

Samara Rosenfeld
FEBRUARY 25, 2019
virtual reality, VR, telehealth

While virtual reality (VR) technology has seen low levels of adoption across health systems, in the niche sectors where it has entered the care continuum, the tech is making quite the splash.

VR is empowering psychiatrists to help alleviate schizophrenic auditory hallucinations and overcome acrophobia (fear of heights) in many patients. The technology has also been shown to help manage chronic pain. VR makes things easier for remote patients too, offering the ability to be monitored either on-site — at a rehabilitation center or in a hospital setting — or from the comfort of their own homes.

>> READ: Virtual Reality Shows Promise in Treating Eating Disorders

Eran Orr, CEO of VR Health, an Israeli health-tech company based in Boston, Mass., told Inside Digital Health™ at HIMSS 2019 that most health systems have overlooked healthcare-centric VR opportunities because of misleading marketing campaigns from outside industries. While many think of VR as an immersive way to play their favorite video game, Orr said that there are three key benefits to implementing and using the technology in healthcare.

The Immersive Aspect of Virtual Reality 

VR is a fully-immersive technology, which carries strong psychological implications. As soon as a patient puts on the VR headset, they are freed from their corporeal and sensory connections to their surroundings, which can greatly improve the patient experience. Suddenly, the patient is unencumbered by the pressure inherent in being present in a hospital and less cognizant of their pain. 

Patients are able to escape high-pressure situations and become immersed in the setting of whatever application is being used on the headset. While the patient's mind travels, these applications can collect healthcare data through precision measurements and provide analytics on range of motion, smoothness of the motion and improvement over time. 

In the VR world, the mind-body connection can be manipulated, and manifest in symptom improvement. For example, VR Health recently conducted a clinical trial that suggested that VR can be used to help teach the brain how to cope with physical discomfort like hot flashes. Orr said the results of the trial were very positive. After repeated use, caregivers and physicians are able to track the patient’s progress from session to session and measure the improvements being made.

The Brain as a Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Orr said that the brain is like a CPU and that 75 percent of the CPU goes to visions and sounds. When we overload the CPU with visions and sounds — like VR technology does — perception of chronic pain and acute pain get downgraded in our CPU’s priority list. VR technology has the capability of helping patients forget about their pain and focus on rehabilitation.

For example, VR has been shown to help patients replace opioid therapy, Orr said. Software applications can be used to distract the patient or teach them alternative ways to cope with the pain that don't include the use of opioids.

VR Is a Closed-Loop

VR is not like any other kind of wearable technology or sensor because it is a closed-loop, Orr said. While smartwatches and sensors often collect data based on the physical activities of the wearer, VR allows data to be gathered during manipulations. VR environments can be manipulated quickly and easily, so data can paint a clear picture of how the patient copes with these changes and allow for superior analytics to be collected and provided for the patient and physician.  

“We see VR as the next telehealth platform of the healthcare market,” Orr said.

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