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How is Virtual Reality used in Healthcare and Pharma Industries?

use of virtual reality in healthcare

The future is unpredictable on every occasion. It significantly influences our daily lives with more technologies that we couldn’t even imagine back in the day. From social networks and media to touchphones and complex applications, digitalization changed our way of perception of things. Even more, it has changed a lot of business approaches and industries.

As for the pharma and life science industry, the digitalization and use of modern technologies became a like a breath of fresh air, forever impacting the most vital thing for healthcare in common — communication. Modern-day pharma faces the enormous challenge of shifting to more efficient ways of engaging doctors with the recent explosion of VR and AR technologies.

What does it mean?

Imagine presenting your clinical data simultaneously, using any suitable device instead of manually sorting out and laying huge rows of useless documentation on the table. The wide range of scientific resources and data usually contained from a bunch of digitals and charts can be presented in a visual form, hands-free, and portable whenever and wherever it is most in demand.

“The pattern of activity in a brain region involved in spatial learning in the virtual world is completely different than when it processes activity in the real world,” said Mayank Mehta, a UCLA professor of physics, neurology, and neurobiology at UCLA College and the study’s senior author.

Let’s see how virtual technology helps to build strong patient engagement.

What is Virtual Reality in Medicine?

Let’s start with what VR is. Usually, this is something associated with video gaming: users can watch some virtual objects superimposed on the display and sometimes even interact with them.

Since 2012, technology production has become massive with a huge explosion of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Gear VR, and Google Cardboard.

Since that, it has become a massive hit at medical conventions, conferences, and live events. Denise Strauss, former VP of cardiovascular marketing at Boehringer, now VP, and head of marketing at Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, notes:

“For sales reps, rather than walking into a physician’s office with print material, the Google Cardboard VR experience immediately catches their attention.”

At this point, virtual reality technology in healthcare can be easily confused with augmented reality (AR), as they share the idea of bringing virtual objects to the user’s perception. Yet VR and AR are significantly different.

While VR devices are aimed to detach a person from real-life entirely, augmented content is a consequent response towards delivering information directly into users’ eyesight without losing touch with the real world. With AR, you stay in a physical world with added virtual elements. Hence, it might bring a better understanding of users’ real-world experiences. 

Still, we are going to focus more on virtual reality in healthcare. So what does it offer?

4 Production Modes are offered by Virtual Engagement:

Theater mode

360-world video’s combination of content and images presented on a simulated theater screen can drive deeper engagement with your brand among its potential audience. For physicians, if it’s for training or educational purposes, VR solutions such as simulation can help get an inside view of patients’ inner processes and conditions, which are usually hidden. For example, how it feels to “experience” Parkinson’s disease or migraine, what symptoms may occur, or to view the whole migraine aura.

360-degree video

The most widely used VR tool. Despite being unable to change the user’s position while watching, it remains a significant virtual immersive experience and education provider. With the help of VR equipment, patients may observe how the prescribed drugs and medicines work in 3D just before their eyes. Another example is LOROS hospice in Leicester, which created a VR film of a walk in a park to provide respite to terminally ill patients.

Simulated 3D Environments

Designing, implementing, and integrating 3D objects into the VR world with a particular software such as Cinema 4D or Maya allows users to determine their position. For example, the audience can interact with your drugs at the molecular level and integrate the data in a 3D world.

Gesture-based Interactivity

This activity has its peculiarity — the ability to recognize human gestures while interacting with VR objects. It works perfectly for patients with movement disorders.

Implementation of Virtual Reality in Healthcare

In modern healthcare, the use of VR is adopted to help patients and doctors achieve better results in treatments, including surgery, physical and cognitive rehabilitation, pain issues, mental health, and others.

Medical Education and Training

Modern medical universities like George Washington University are implementing VR into learning and medical training for real neurosurgery and thoracic surgery. VR allows for creating and exploring an operating room with a model of a patient’s brain and body before performing a procedure. It significantly improves the awareness of doctors doing surgery, patients lying under surgical blades, and even their families, who can better understand procedures ahead of time.

Another good example is that the company that produces stents for cardiology or angioplasty can use VR to provide doctors with a safe experience. Instead of providing clinicians with reading materials and presentations, VR training creates an immersive space to describe a production process, explain usage, and educate about correct device implementation.

Pain Management

Did you know that your brain doesn’t differentiate between real and fake? We must look for additional triggers and questions to identify whether something is true. Meanwhile, our brain always lives “between worlds,” easily mixing the real world with imaginary stuff and not caring to discover what is what. Does it sound unpleasant to you?

Either way, it works perfectly for such medical purposes as pain management.

Thomas Caruso, MD, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, states,

“pain is a perception that’s coupled to your attention, mood, and emotions.”

It means that if a patient’s mindset can be less focused on the surgery moment or other unpleasant nuances of medication, they will more likely feel less pain and struggle — significantly influencing the therapy.

A good example is patients being busy with medical VR games and barely feeling the stick of a needle or an IV going in. Also, using VR helps patients to deal with the fear of dental care – or even losing it all — because of decreased pain.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

At this point, using VR gives many healthcare possibilities.

First, it allows clinicians or medicine developers to feel what the patient with Parkinson’s disease feels regarding movement. This experience will enable doctors to step into patients’ shoes and create a more accurate treatment approach based on practical knowledge.

Second, it gives a proper rehabilitation space to help patients suffering from movement disorders and diseases. In the medical VR environment, the patient interacts with objects doing necessary exercises. The overall gamification of the procedure makes people forget about the pain and different psychological factors that may distract and interfere with rehabilitation. For example, children with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) experience pain in one or more limbs almost all the time. Medical VR games like squashing watermelons help them to focus more on the movements and the game rather than pain and stress. As a result, children’s confidence is increasing, and treatment improves.

Virtual Reality in Pharmaceutical Sales

Using VR tools gives enough space for unique promotion ideas for pharmaceutical companies. As marketing and sales communications are often a question of content and delivery, we all know upfront that PowerPoint presentations and PDF brochures with walls of text and strange infographics will bore healthcare professionals to death. As a result, you get the interruption of communication. Not quite an outcome you expect from your revenue teams, right?

Your target audience will likely be impressed with what VR offers. This is where the “customer journey” term becomes literal: you can take the HCP through the prepared virtual project demonstrating the medication and how it works. Users can be presented with an analog of the human body and see how its health is affected by the medicine you present. VR in pharma marketing convinces people much stronger than any possible wording on your next sales slide.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Reality in Healthcare

VR technology isn’t for everyone. Unfortunately, it is not a cure-all for every disease, and its possibilities are limited.

  • The implementation of VR may be costly and take some time. The VR hardware glasses range from 60$ (Google Daydream View) to $1,500 (HTC Vive Pro Eye Full Kit). Also, these kits are fragile and need to be maintained regularly. You may need additional software that fulfills your business needs. At this point, there’s a need to find an appropriate team of developers who can create a unique application for healthcare based on virtual engines like Unity or Unreal Engine.
  • Some people may feel nausea, similar to motion sickness, as their vestibular apparatus did not adapt to the new environment. Getting used to VR may take some time or several sessions. The main problem is that VR is a young technology, and its use standards and policies are still being determined. It is getting less severe with every technology update — the better software and hardware, the fewer people feel the discomfort.
  • Despite VR providing the best immersive experience, it is still not a panacea for education. A virtual environment works perfectly for describing information or engaging in new activities. However, it can not provide 100% immersion as it does not give a user proper hand control. For example, it can simulate surgery and let you go through every aspect of the operation. Still, it cannot give the feeling of a scalpel in hand, living tissue, and other nuances that are possible only in the real world.

Nevertheless, the benefits of virtual reality in healthcare are much more significant and valuable to those whom it helps to stop struggling. As we listed above, from educational and training purposes to unique therapeutic experiences and rehabilitation, the future of virtual reality in healthcare is quite promising.

See and feel for yourself: once you get your headset, there are thousands of medical applications of virtual reality which do not require a doctor’s prescription. Instead, these applications promise better health and wellness for specific conditions. For example, Embodied Labs, a company specializing in immersive educational technology, created an educational app for caretakers. This app holds several training sessions that address the issues of hearing loss, eyesight, and dementia.

The healthcare market is growing, and the pharmaceutical sector will be constantly updated with new VR ideas and solutions, improving medical education and patients’ procedures of treatment.

If you still have any questions about VR technology or want pharmaceutical
expertise, do not hesitate to contact us. Our experts will provide you with full consultation.

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