Since the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare became the foremost necessity throughout the global community. The situation went dramatic, causing a shortage in the healthcare industry. Despite it’s been more than a year and a half since its origination, the number of infections is exponentially growing; the threats of virus variants are continuously rising. While the demand for healthcare is rising in high-speed, its rate of supply is either incapable of following the demand or fixed.

The following introductions regarding the application of Virtual Reality (VR) in healthcare are not relevant to the current pandemic. Though, it has promising potential in deriving the resolution for the most significant problem in healthcare nowadays: pursuing higher effectiveness and efficiency while enhancing the processing speed.

Medical Training

VR enables the “free-visualization” of the internal human body — the access towards internal parts of the body with approaching difficulties, is allowed. Medical students learn on cadavers, which are difficult to get hold of and (obviously) do not react in the same way a live patient would. In VR, any part of the body can be viewed in detail, via a realistic 360° CGI reconstruction. More from this, training scenarios, which replicate common surgical procedures, can be created.

Patient Treatment

(1) Patient Education

Surgery is an area demanding high proficiency, which doctors occasionally face difficulties in delivering easy and accessible explanation. This may result in a situation where the patient takes the surgical procedure without sufficient understanding. We may believe diagrams to aid explanation, but most of the medical diagrams are complex. Although patients are able to visualize it, they may find themselves simply nodding their heads without true comprehension.

VR may enable vivid visualization; thus, enable the patient to truly understand the surgical procedure, as it enables the patient to visualize his/her internal body right in front of their eyes, via a 360° VR reconstruction of their anatomy and pathology. This allows patients to get an enhanced understanding of the treatment, and consequently higher patient satisfaction.

(2) Mental Health & Psychological Therapy

VR has its ability of transporting users to somewhere else from the physical world, wherever they want. This aspect can be used to create powerful simulations of the scenarios in which psychological difficulties occur, for treatment purposes. The therapist does not need to accompany a patient to a certain desired location for treatment. Simply through the utilization of VR, therapy sessions can be taken in place wherever, regardless of the restrictions of the physical world.

(3) Pain Management & Physical Therapy

VR’s healing capabilities aren’t just limited to psychological issues, but have been proved to work for pain management and physical treatment too.

Neuro Rehab VR introduced a gamified approach to physical therapy. The company developed VR training exercises with the application of machine learning, for tailoring each exercise to patients’ therapeutic needs. The aim is to make physical therapy more enjoyable so as to increase patient engagement.

The study published on 22 Nov 2019, shows that children with cerebral palsy experienced a significant improvement in their mobility, after VR therapy.

Moreover, the University of Washington Seattle and the UW Harborview Burn Center introduced a study, showing that full VR immersion for the patients undergoing physical therapy after a skin graft subsequently reduced their pain levels.

Medical Conferences

Medical conferences can be very tedious — audiences have to sit still for hours, with lack of engagement and uninteresting presentation visuals. Integration of VR can make medical conferences to be more efficient and engaging. This allows audiences to visualize the details of the presentation more. Further, audiences do not need to attend at the physical auditorium at all.

Dr. Brennan Spiegal, a strong advocate of VR in medicine, gave an entire #MedEd lecture in VR. He has also been using this technology in his presentation at the annual Virtual Medicine conference.

The pandemic provided humanity an opportunity to acknowledge the existence of a deadliness virus, and its interrelation with the global economy, resulting in accompanied inefficiency and chaos (if worse) in its operation.

This may end someday, but the spirits of the global community would not return back to the era prior to its inception. Instead, the pandemic has invoked our awareness of hygiene, and the fact that any assimilate virus may appear and conquer the world again.

The desire for healthcare is expected to rise. People got their sights open to the internal components of the human body — both physical and spiritual. This refers to a simultaneous rise in the demand for healthcare experts. It takes approximately 10 to 14 years to become a fully licensed doctor. The required time duration is notable. Expect what the integration of Virtual Reality can perform during the training and operation procedures of medical students and doctors.

VR may not reduce the time duration for getting certified as a doctor, but will provide a broader range of opportunities while their learning; enable a promising rise in effectiveness and efficiency while treatment and knowledge distribution to patients, at a higher speed.

Although it’s not mentioned in the main part of this article, the development of wearable technology and the integration of machine learning will lower down the threshold of access to personal medical analysis; enable the general public to gain more access to the quantitative data of their body and mind, thus bringing forth the awareness of personal health conditions. Illustrate what a single Apple Watch provided to the general public.

The “pincers” between the utilization of VR in the professional healthcare industry and the propagated distribution of wearable devices to the public, are expected to reach an ideal operational objective of healthcare: fundamental analysis data provided by the consumer wearable devices; detailed analysis (if required), medication, and surgical procedures operated by professional doctors. There are many more promising expectations in this integration.

I am an 18 year-old undergraduate student at HKUST, an enthusiast in the Metaverse and the future of human civilization. I learn, code, design, and write.