“You can not describe virtual reality (VR), you have to experience VR by yourself”. In line with this knowledge, the following article is addressing all “Healthcare enthusiasts” who like to become inspired during the search for innovative solutions in the healthcare sector. On this voyage of discovery through virtual worlds many further links and finds are deposited, which should animate the reader to test one or the other use case in his own business.
Virtual Reality – a revolutionary Technology
Although there have been numerous attempts in the 1990s to produce better virtual reality smart glasses with the development of computer technology, all attempts failed due to the inadequate immersion of users in the virtual world and the poor quality and performance of computers and displays.
Enormous progress in the development of high-performance computer processors and graphics cards has influenced a 19-year-old young man named Palmer Luckey and founder of Oculus, who decided to merge these components in 2012 to create an innovative head-mounted display (HMD). This enabled him not only to experience immersive gaming experiences in front of the screen, but to have the feeling that he himself was part of the virtual world.
Facebook’s USD 2.3 Billion acquisition of Oculus in March 2014 and the rapid development of the VR technology over the last five years have not only exploit new business opportunities for innovative and fascinating non-gaming business applications. Also very interesting case studies for medical applications and for the use in the healthcare became the focus of interest.
With the VR technology the users of VR goggles are teleported into another virtual world. The experienced feeling in this world – also called “the sense of presence” – is so strong with the new developed VR glasses, that this opened up completely new therapeutic, training and marketing approaches.
Many potential use cases have already been tested and implemented in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. Selected reference projects that have generated corresponding added value in various business areas are summarized below.
Applications for Virtual Reality
VR in healthcare focuses on three main aspects:
- surgical education and training
- medical and health prevention
- medical rehabilitation and psychological therapy
In the pharmaceutical and service sector, the current focus is on the areas
- product marketing
- company presentations.
Education and Training
- The experience of a surgery
- Make surgical interventions virtual. Simulate and train risky interventions in virtual surgeries, plan surgeries
- In-Device Experiences (functionality of a medical device such as a hearing aid, prosthesis or joint)
- In-Body Experiences (Understanding a mechanism of a drug, cellular functions and organs of the human body)
- Visualize point-of-care and patient perspective (in the nursing, in the clinic, or at home)
- Drug development and drug discovery
- Visualization of complex data
Medical and Health Prevention
- Relaxation applications
- Sports fitness and rehabilitation applications (virtual flights and bike tours, virtual tours for the disabled). Gambling elements (gamification) are used for motivation
Medical Rehabilitation and Psychological Therapy
- Exposure therapy (in case of phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder or to overcome fears
- Pain therapy (the pain center of the brain is distracted and the sensation of pain during treatment significantly reduced)
- Rehabilitation of stroke patients
- Nutrition counseling and exercise trainer (in case of obesity or diabetes)
- Gaming app for understanding and behavioral training of diabetes patients, reduction of the drug failure rate in children through virtual gaming concepts
- Parkinson’s simulation from the perspective of a patient
- Diabetes Voyager – Product presentation at trade fair booth (Novo Nordisk)
- Rheumatism – Patient experiences and product features (AbbVie)
- Dermatology – The flight through diseased skin layers (AbbVie)
- Biotech marketing (CAST Pharma)
- Recruitment – pharmaceutical companies present themselves through 360 ° videos
- Clinic tour – inspection of a clinic and presentation of services by means of 360 ° panorama photos
- Trade fairs – innovative storytelling at the exhibition booth
- Innovations and corporate image – visualization in VR creates new perspectives and insights, companies as innovative pioneers.
The Look into the Future
The first concrete implementations in other industry segments and in the areas of eCommerce, entertainment, corporate training and trainings suggest further areas of application: the virtual pharmacy, the virtual consultants, virtual home visits, the patient exchange in social areas with those affected and their own avatar.
There are many reasons why these applications are still in their infancy for healthcare. These include legal requirements (patient protection and confidentiality of data), the complex ecosystem with patients, doctors, therapists, health insurance companies, authorities, clinics and pharmaceutical companies, as well as the fact that the high-performance VR glasses are still quite expensive especially for the end consumers.
Recommendations for getting started in Virtual Reality
Despite these challenges, there are already numerous ways to find a quick and cost-acceptable way to get started with this new technology.
With so-called cardboards you can already try out a lot of VR content with your own smartphone. Even though the immersion and the sense of presence are very limited with these simple but inexpensive models, especially 360° videos can create great experiences and provide a whole new perspective for many situations. These glasses are used when you want to serve end consumers or online marketing and communication channels (such as YouTube).
With mobile, wireless, high-quality VR glasses such as the Samsung GearVR, the ZeissVR One, the Google Daydream or, in the future, the Oculus Go comes close to a perfect presence feeling in virtual worlds. Such wireless systems are primarily used at events, in marketing and sales.
For medical simulations and for real-time VR experiences with as much freedom of movement, the more powerful high-end VR goggles connected to a PC or laptop with a powerful graphics card are required. Market leaders for business applications here are currently the Facebook system with the Oculus Rift and HTC with the Vive. Corresponding ergonomic controllers allow the complete immersion in the virtual worlds with high interactivity with the own avatar hands.
User-friendly and intuitive software tools such as The Virtual Reality Suite allows interested users without any programming knowledge to create their first impressing VR experiences and VR presentations in order to test and evaluate potential value-added case studies.
The author has summarized further inspirations and numerous qualitatively described use cases from various branches in the study “New Dimensions of Reality” published in cooperation with KPMG.
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