First, 2016 was supposed to be the year of virtual reality, as it passed without much of a whimper, 2017 took the forecasted crown. We were told the new technology would transcend industry verticals with a variety of applications.

While VR hasn’t exploded as predicted, it has made inroads in the health care space.Click To Tweet

While VR hasn’t exploded as predicted, it has made inroads in the health care space. I’m not going to make any wild predictions on VR’s sudden arrival to the party in 2018, rather, I would like to take a look at how the technology is being applied to improve health care.

VR Treating Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Recent studies have shown that the nervous system is stimulated and cellular synapses are improved with the interaction of familiar environments that necessitate memory recall. Virtual reality can create these familiar and unique environments for older patients with dementia to provide positive memories. A company in England is creating a series of virtual reality films that take place during historic moments, like Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. The concept is gaining popularity with those that treat dementia because it is a non-invasive and non-pharmacological cognitive intervention. Look for other breakthroughs for VR in this space.

Beyond cognitive rehabilitation, virtual reality is being utilized to design a test for detecting cognitive impairment earlier. A new game, SeaHero Quest VR, challenges players to navigate lakeside paths and fend off sea monsters – but the gameplay is a cover for testing spatial awareness and traversing new environments. Decline of these two skills are a forewarning of cognitive impairment and dementia. Dementia starts 15-20 years before explicit symptoms appear; earlier detection would lead to earlier treatment.

Pass on the Novocain, Take the Headset

Dentists have started using virtual reality headsets for patients undergoing prolonged dental work. While it is assumed the headset would cure boredom, it has also shown to reduce pain. In a recent study, a group of patients received VR headsets during a procedure, while a control group received nothing. Those with the headsets reported less stress and pain than those without one. A dentist visit without boredom and the loss of feeling in my face? I can get behind that.

Virtually Surgery

As my old baseball coaches would say, practice makes perfect. In no other profession than surgery is this more imperative. Generally, medical students only have a of couple opportunities to hone their skills on cadavers before taking on the responsibility of real patients. One study showed that surgeons needed 50 to 100 cases to reach a level of proficiency. Virtual reality allows surgical residents to try a variety of procedures and review their work afterward.

However, students aren’t the only ones using VR. Experienced surgeons are tapping into the technology for rare surgical procedures. Patient-specific anatomy can be created through VR platforms, allowing surgeons to map out a plan for a surgery. An example of this comes from a recent surgery in New Delhi, India, where Siamese twins conjoined at the head were separated.

This is only a short list of virtual reality being used in health care applications. There will continue to be growth in cognitive improvement, psychology and training, as well as other health care areas. As physicians and specialists embrace the new technology, where can marketers step in? Some potential growth areas are proxy hospital visits for large hospital systems or visualization of the use of a new medical device for companies like Medtronic.

Will virtual reality take another step forward in health care in 2018? What are some other potential uses of the technology in health care?

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