It’s likely that VR technologies will fundamentally disrupt a whole host of industries over the next decade. None, however, will be transformed more than the healthcare industry.
We’ve touched upon the potential applications of Virtual Reality technology in a number of articles this year alone. As commercially viable hardware hits the shelves, we’re more certain than ever that we’re closing in on a tipping point into a mass-market cultural phenomenon.
But as the obvious potential for immersive video games and next-level cinematic experiences will undoubtedly hog all the headlines (and make most of the money), it is the health and well-being applications that have us most excited.
Without a hint of hyperbole, the imminent adoption of VR technology could change the way the human race looks after itself, ushering in an era of better medical training, and more precise and successful surgical procedures.
In this article, we will discuss the possible benefits of VR surgery, the technology that will likely be involved, and how it will impact the overall commercial landscape of the growing Virtual Reality industry.
Virtual Reality Surgery Training
Let’s begin with the obvious application of Virtual Reality within the healthcare industry: training.
Generally speaking, the healthcare sector is one of the biggest adopters of new technology, and its attitude to Virtual Reality is no different.
This exciting technological advancement is viewed as an opportunity to better train the next generation of medical professionals. Using VR, trainee surgeons will be able to log valuable hours practicing tricky surgical procedures in a safe and supportive environment.
They will learn the necessary skills and techniques without putting the lives of real patients at risk. And as they do, they will receive feedback from the VR platform, and their real-life mentors, to help them improve as surgeons.
Regularly using these VR systems will also do wonders for a young surgeon's confidence, as they gain experience, perfect techniques, and improve muscle memory. And experienced surgeons will see some benefit too, stepping into a virtual environment and refreshing dormant skills before an important procedure.
So, what will this Virtual Reality training system look like?
Exploring a Virtual Surgery Simulator
When it comes to surgical training, it seems likely that a number of different VR technologies will combine to create an immersive and effective Virtual Reality surgery simulator.
The simulator will therefore be able to mimic typical real-world scenarios for trainee surgeons to tackle, such as hemostasis (stopping the flow of blood), debulking (the surgical removal of as much of a malignant tumor as possible), and microdissection.
NeuroVR is one such simulator - and perhaps the most advanced of its kind - which uses stereo vision and bimanual tools with haptic technology to help train neurosurgeons.
Neurosurgery residents and surgeons are quite often pressed for time when it comes to acquiring new skills and relevant certifications. Thanks to this Virtual Reality brain surgery simulator, they can hone their open cranial and endoscopic surgery skills and procedures in an immersive and supportive training environment.
And by building their experience inside one of these simulations, it stands to reason that the incredibly complicated real-life brain surgery procedures will become more successful when the time comes to operate.
The combination of the lifelike renderings of human brain tissue, tumors, and blood vessels, the realistic sound effects and the tactile feedback all help elevate NeuroVR’s brain surgery simulation to the next level.
Robotic VR Surgery
The next clear innovation for Virtual Reality and healthcare will be the use of robotic devices in surgical procedures.
For instance, a robotic arm, controlled by a human surgeon, could be utilized in order to make smaller, more accurate incisions, therefore resulting in fewer complications and an overall faster procedure. This would also mean a reduction in blood loss and a faster recovery time for the patient.
Combined with VR hardware, such as headsets and hand tracking technology, seasoned surgeons could achieve those small and delicate surgical maneuvers that are almost impossible by hand alone. They could also use a robotic arm to accomplish remote telesurgery - that is, surgery from a separate location to that of the patient. This could be incredibly useful in certain scenarios, such as in a war or other dangerous settings, or when it is too risky and/or expensive to move the patient.
But for this to work effectively and efficiently, haptic technology and force feedback is crucially important. In essence, the surgeon should feel some sort of physical response when they manipulate the device, therefore informing them as to how much pressure they need to use when making incisions or removing tissue.
Virtual Reality Surgery in Action
So, how might this technology combine in the future? Well, consider the following scenario:
A neurosurgeon is scheduled to perform brain surgery. They feel a little rusty, and so in preparation, they log a few more hours in the NeuroVR, practicing the very same procedure they will be tasked with performing.
This allows them to iron out any minor problems with their technique, without posing any risk to their patient. Now, brimming with confidence, the time comes to step into the operating room.
Having undertaken their customary pre-surgery checks and ensuring everything is sanitized and sterile, they pull on their VR headset and haptic gloves, both of which interface with the robotic arm. As the surgery involves the removal of a malignant brain tumor, precision is of the utmost importance. Even the most minor of mistakes could cause irreparable damage.
Throughout the procedure, the patient’s metrics are displayed inside the VR headset, allowing the surgeon to keep a literal eye on heart rate, brain function, and blood pressure.
Thanks to the time spent preparing using the NeuroVR system, allowing the surgeon to brush up on their skills, plus the precise nature of the VR technology and robotic arm, the surgery is a complete success. The patient goes on to make a complete recovery in a short space of time thanks to the non-invasive qualities of the hardware used.
This is perhaps an idealistic view of a future where VR surgery is the norm, but it’s certainly worth striving for. In fact, studies have already shown that by supporting trainee surgeons with virtual training systems delicate procedures can be carried out to a much greater degree of success.
The Commercial Impact of VR Healthcare
Part of an industry that is projected to be worth over $120bn by 2020, the global market for Virtual Reality healthcare is expected to reach around $3.8bn in that same timeframe. The main drivers are likely to be the technological advancements in healthcare IT, applications for increasingly diverse medical disciplines, and an increasing demand for both rehabilitation and simulation training systems.
The United States currently represents the largest market worldwide, thanks to its strong dedication to Research and Development, its increased investment in Virtual Reality technology by both the government and private organizations, and its early adoption of VR technology.
Asia is expected to challenge the US in the not-too-distant future, as it is projected to become the fastest growing market, bolstered by its ever-improving healthcare infrastructure and strong desire for medical innovations capable of lowering healthcare costs and increasing quality of life.
How Can Appeal-VR Help?
Due to the strides made in VR hardware and software development, the healthcare industry will undoubtedly change for the better over the next decade, and beyond.
And one thing’s for sure - as this burgeoning market really starts to motor, you won’t want to be left behind. By choosing to work with AppReal, you’ll be able to tap into our unrivalled experience in custom VR app development.
We’ll guide your innovative VR healthcare app idea through the crucially important design and development stages, before creating a valuable and effective application that will transform your business, and shake up the medical industry.
Are you ready to take your first step towards realizing your VR app idea? Speak with one of our friendly experts today to get the ball rolling.