• by Bruce Carlson
  • May 16 2017

Virtual Reality in Healthcare - Nearly a Billion-Dollar U.S. Market

Need to train medical students when no OR is available?  Or teach a surgical robot how to operate?  Guide a surgeon with the insight of other surgeons miles away? Virtual reality and augmented reality is answering the call. And the market for virtual reality in healthcare in the United States is growing, from $525 million in $2012 to an estimated $976 million today, according to Kalorama Information's report, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) Market in Healthcare.

But VR doesn't always mean goggles.  Broadly, virtual reality is the means or capability to visualize and manipulate, or otherwise interact with, digital data representative of a real-world entity or environment. Very often this is a screen on a computer or wall, though it can be a personal phone or goggle.  You could say these digital data representatives are called virtual environments or VEs. VEs in healthcare would be an operating room or even a patient.   
The main areas in the VR in healthcare market where creation of environments serve a purpose are: surgery, medical education, professional training in healthcare, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and behavioral therapy:

Virtual Reality in Healthcare: Surgery

In addition to vizualization techninques, where VR technology is used to allow surgeons to plan surgery and "see" the patient without expensive and potentially harmful exploratory surgery, some of VR is used to do the surgery itself, particularly with robots. Virtual reality technology has been particularly useful in robot-assisted orthopedic surgery. For instance, the Stryker Mako system highlights bone sections during surgical planning that are to be removed or shaved away for implant placement. The pre-operative 3D model is registered to the patient structure and becomes an interactive template during the procedure. The Mako burring instrument is directly held in the surgeon’s hand, but provides resistance against surgeon movements to keep the burr within the predefined removal area highlighted in the 3D model. Burring instrument operation on the surgical site also updates the virtual model with replicated bone material removal. The interactive virtual model improves the precision of orthopedic implant placement and mitigates excessive bone removal

Virtual Reality in Healthcare: Pain Managment

Numerous studies have demonstrated that patient distraction can be effective for pain relief and pain management. The immersive qualities of VR can significantly diminish patients’ active attention to painful procedures such as wound cleaning and needle insertion. The analgesic effect of VR may vary in relation to its sensory complexity and interactive capabilities. Additional sensory dimensions in the virtual environment may include olfactory inputs and haptic feedback. Interaction with the virtual environment also diverts patient attention from pain; many trials of pain management using VR involved a game requiring eye or motor movement to complete virtual task.

Medical Education, particualry surgical education: Numerous companies offer VR, often headset-based, and AR products that address the preoperative spectrum from surgical planning through rehearsal, independent of a particular platform such as surgical navigation system or RAS. Image fusion of multiple medical imaging modalities provides surgeons and consulting physicians with 3D patient-specific anatomy that can be accessed and navigated in AR (typically computer screens) or VR (major market headsets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or smartphone-based sets).

Kalorama Information's report, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) Market in Healthcare (U.S. Markets for Surgery; Medical Education and Training; Pain Management, Rehabilitation and Therapy).