Could you believe a couple of years ago that would be able to travel even without exiting your home? Me neither. Far less that some kind of virtual treatment (and, what is more, even surgery) will be a reality. A virtual one, but still a reality.

At the moment, the research found 39% of respondents very familiar with VR and 48% considering to start using VR in the nearest future. One more study shows that healthcare doesn’t want to lag behind the other industries and is actively adopting VR, namely into:

To be more specific, here’re some types of medical activities VR technology can be applied to:

  • providing both HCPs and patients with curated information;
  • ensuring robotic interventions;
  • conducting virtual trials;
  • enabling remote surgery;
  • transforming medical education.

Let’s have a closer look at how healthcare and pharma professionals are already taking the advantage of VR and AR.

How doctors apply virtual reality in their daily practice

1. Next level of medical education. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Health System, noted that VR training improves knowledge retention – over a year the students (or doctors) can recollect almost 80% of the information received. At the same time, traditional trainings enable just 20% retention in a week.

Dr. Christopher Knoll, a Stanford pediatric cardiology expert, underlines that actually seeing the blood flow is an exciting thing, comparing to the plain static images medical students usually see.

Another healthcare professional, Dr. Luca A. Vricella, chief of pediatric heart transplantation at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that visualizing processes as a 3D image can provide much more better understanding for medical students how heart surgery looks in real life.

What is more, VR brings a sense of gamification into medical education (e.g., during first aid studies). And the practice shows that learning through playing can really increase the efficiency of education, as Dr. Raphael Olaiya, NHS doctor states.

Dr. Justin Barad, an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles, specifies that passing training in somewhat real-life conditions will ensure “patient safety, decrease complications, and increase the learning curve for complex medical devices”.

2. First live-streamed surgery through 360O . Over a year ago, a breakthrough has happened: on April 14th, cancer surgeon Dr. Shafi Ahmed used a VR camera to broadcast an operation from London for the first time in the history of medicine. The intervention took 2 hours and during that time everyone could follow the operation flow by joining the live streaming through the specific mobile app and VR headset. HCPs believe such broadcasting will definitely contribute to training enhancement and make the healthcare more transparent.

3. Proven pain-relieving effect of virtual reality. Brennan Spiegel together with his team from the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles started applying VR technology to help their patients relieve pain and release stress conditions. By using VR headset, the patients were able to virtually travel to Iceland, exploring its landscapes from the helicopter view; do some artwork in the virtual studio or dive into the ocean with the dolphins, blue whales.

Dr. Spiegel believes that while improving the patients’ state of mind (namely, by helping them to relax), it is possible to speed up their overall recovery. Moreover, in his opinion, that will contribute to shortening the length of stay at the hospital and, as a result, cutting down the cost of care.

The recent study shows that VR technology can also lower patients’ average self-reported pain scores from a 5.4 to a 4.1. While the similar 2D distraction experience lowers that score only to to 4.8.

The other research, conducted by psychologists Hunter Hoffman and Walter Meyer, and alike one by Dave Patterson at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle, demonstrates that patients who viewed VR videos or interacted with VR apps, reported less discomfort. After the VR experience, those patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the scans of their brains showed they actually experienced less pain.

How pharma companies utilize VR for multiple purposes

Both VR and AR are expanding not only into healthcare, but also into pharmaceuticals. Here is a sneak peek into some bright examples by different companies who dared to adopt these technologies:

  • “Molecular Rift”, created by Jonas Boström, a drug designer from AstraZeneca Department of Medicinal Chemistry in Sweden. Molecular Rift empowers users to interact with molecules through gestures in the VR environment. Jonas considers such possibility as a great chance for molecular visualization in the nearest future.
  • Zeiss has developed a VR app with marketing purposes, which can be used at exhibitions, the “Zeiss IOL Universe”. By using the app, doctors can experience the effect of different ZEISS intraocular lenses (IOLs). Zeiss IOL Universe is called so because each separate eye is compared to a whole galaxy, and the point is that doctors can use it for modeling cataract treatment by assigning the proper intraocular lenses to the proper eye.
  • As we’ve already mentioned in the previous VR in healthcare case studies, GSK has introduced a VR app, which helps people experience how they relatives struggle from the migraine. Actually, that is promo campaign that helps to market GSK’s migraine-relieving drug. You can find some more information about the initiative at their official website.
  • The Swedish pharmacy chain Apotek Hjärtat suggested patients to fight the pain they suffer from through interacting with the VR app in a relaxing environment. Have a look at it here.
  • Abbvie has launched a VR app that aims to educate patients and promote anti-TNF monoclonal antibody, Humira, which helps to fight rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and a number of other conditions. While using the app, user can move around the virtual house and get information about how dangerous can be this or that thing to the patients with rheumatoid arthritis, for example. At the same time, the app tells users how those daily challenges could be overcome with the help of Humira.

So, is pharma ready to provide physicians with what they really need?

As we could see from the comparison of what doctors actually use, and what pharma companies suggest to them, the demand and supply differ a bit. Yet, HCPs are still short of VR apps with educational purpose – for example, those ones that can demonstrate drug mechanism of action etc.

The way out we see is to study physicians’ preferences and develop VR apps that support medical trainings and can be used in everyday practice – for virtual surgery classes, patient diagnostics, optimal treatment schemes and so on.

Contact our innovations team to discover how to bridge the gap between HCPs demand for VR/AR apps and pharma supply.