While some remain skeptical towards the excitement surrounding VR-AR-MR innovations, the fountain of ideas about their application in various industries does not seem to be fading in the nearest future. Just check out the results for VRforgood hashtag, for starters – there are so many phenomenal ways these technologies can be harnessed – from simple trainings and simulations to major marketing strategy expansion moves; and more of those ideas are coming up!

However, we are not here to debate on the potential benefits or dark sides of these technologies. At the end of the day, as it happens with any kind of innovation, it is never exclusively about the tool, it’s about how we decide to use and implement it. Instead, we are going to explore recent trends and conundrums of this topic, since it’s been around for time long enough for allegations and forecasts to stop being raw and rather precarious.

The market of realities is growing

Let’s take a quick look at the figures first – from general to healthcare industry-specific. As it has been predicted from the very beginning of VR/AR experimentation, gaming and entertainment industries will continue to provide core revenue for this sector of high-tech inventions. Although, predictions about the investments in this highly engaging technology vary: Goldman Sachs, for example, has recorded a $3,5 bln investment in AR/VR during 2014-2016 years. Out of which, $1,5 bln in venture capital investment happened throughout last year, as the PwC MoneyTree Report calculated.

So, the investment volume summary goes like this: this market has grown significantly for the past few years and there have been envisioned many ways of implementing VR/AR other than the initial gaming and entertainment use cases. Noticeably, ingenuity of pharma and healthcare industry does not trail far behind. A report by Global Industry Analysts projects that the worldwide VR/AR market for healthcare will likely reach $5.1 bln by 2025 and it will be a part of an estimated $110 bln US VR/AR megamarket by 2025. As our financial statements are implying, for imaginative VR/AR use in healthcare – the sky is the limit. Here are just some ideas that healthcare visionaries of all kinds are already putting in operation.

VRtherapy and VRcare

Let’s move on from the statistics to valued opinions. Virtual reality is already working for pharma at full capacity to create new experiences for both HCPs and patient groups. Most of work, though, seems to stand upon 2 pillars of application: empathy building/treatment – for patients, and deepening learning/discovering experiences – for HCPs. Interestingly, both of these uses of technology underline the very human characteristics – capacity to experience emotions and ability to obtain knowledge. Can you name any other technology being entitled to these spheres?

This underlying factor surely was not lost on the professionals working with VR and making its use cases come true and known. This is the reason why you might come across phrases like “the ultimate empathy machine” or “a layer of authenticity of experience” that other mediums simply can not provide, when experts try to describe the impact of these technologies. Remarkably, VR proved to enable the patients to experience fully-immersive environments and consequently satisfy some of patients’ rather acute psychological needs, potentially helping to face those psychological challenges, as well as take patients’ mind off and thereby sooth their physical pain. In turn, VR empowers doctors to understand the disease state in the eye of the beholders experiencing it, which could contribute to treatment and diagnosis tropes.  Interactive VR steps out of passive observation as it allows the participant to deeply interact and engage with the VR world – with real life conclusions and consequences. That’s where an immense field of opportunity for pharma and healthcare lies.

Moreover, these technologies give a new dimension to future and current doctors’ training and learning experience. VR learning is cost-effective, reduces several risks and contributes greatly to improving learning experience as ABI Research points out in recent ‘Virtual reality in enterprise training’ study.  Overall, Virtual Reality Training Services are to generate US $6,3 bln in 2022. According to recent MM&M report on VR, today, 18% of U.S. physicians have already used VR professionally. And that number will grow specifically for pharma and healthcare industries as VR becomes more closely engrained into medical education process.

The technical side of VR story stands upon 3 factors: the projected lack of human resources able to work and realize VR projects – on the one hand, and ever increasing spread of smartphones + decline in VR headset popularity. Although it is projected that 110 mln VR devices will be shipped by 2021, VR headsets are losing its initial popularity as a lot of hope understandably lies in smartphones. With every 2 out of 3 people having owned a smartphone by 2022, it’s no wonder that smartphone-based portable mobile VR headsets will soon far outstrip other forms, following PwC recent report’s statements. Of the total amount, 88,5% of the headsets will be portable devices that use a smartphone at their core – they are both affordable and benefit hugely from the fast evolution, and replacement rate, of smartphones. Smartphones are also able to conveniently include standalone AR Apps, all of which unburdens the technicalities of delivering the message to the audience. Therefore, it is a safe bet, that in terms of VR-AR delivery scheme, industries now prefer to stay on the safe side and invest in less investment risky options like smartphones.

Virtual market is becoming a two-speed one!

Now that we have payed tribute to VR use, which easily comes to the front during ‘virtual markets’ discussion, it’s time to delineate forecast on its humble counterpart – AR. Exactly as “a counterpart”, because up until recently, there was no investment distinction between VR and AR – they just went off together as one team, with only a tiny slash separating them. After the time for first techno hype has passed, the conclusion of AR/VR becoming a two speed market stepped forward. It is projected that the AR market on its own will grow to $96 bln by 2021, with 60% of that going to industrial and commercial uses. Another side of the AR story indicates that AR is expected to be a market at least 3 times larger, than VR. The investment in Mobile AR might dominate AR/VR for the near future, mainly because of its technical incorporation advantage.

Surely, in order to make an informed choice, which market of virtual technologies to invest in, it is crucial to be driven by the available resources, clear purpose and good timing – for those, one can go for AR, VR or both! Start out with little steps – for example, explore our AR App platform solution for digital pharma explorers. To keep up with the evolving capabilities of emerging virtual markets and render relevant in a transformed world, pharma is presented with many opportunities to join the torrent with a maximum cost-efficiency. It’s time to seize the chance!