5 ways Virtual Reality is already altering healthcare

Virtual Reality was introduced into healthcare for the pleasure of both doctors and patients alike. In this article, we look at five examples of how medical Virtual Reality is transforming patients’ lives and how it works for doctors.

Were you aware that it is possible to swim with dolphins in the sea while you are lying in your hospital bed? Have you ever wondered about experiencing your 73rd birthday as a 20-year-old? Or may you want to follow a high-risk surgery from your sofa?

VR in healthcare is an area of huge possibilities. It hasn’t only moved the imagination of sci-fi fans but also real-life medical practitioners and clinical researchers too. Even though this is a relatively new innovation, there are many examples of where VR has had a positive effect on patients’ well-being and doctors’ work.

1. Watch operations as if you are holding the scalpel

Have you ever pondered the goings-on of the operating room? Or what the blue or green-clad doctors with masks in their hands are doing?

In 2016, the very first VR surgery was conducted by Dr. Shafi Ahmed. The surgery was broadcast online in real-time, and anyone could view it. VR now enables anyone watching to see the same view as the surgeon. This technology is widely used in the medical world to train prospective surgeons and for existing surgeons to practice procedures and operations.

ImmersiveTouch and Osso VR are just two companies that offer virtual reality solutions to allow surgeons to home their skills or train. VR has been well-proven as a good training method – even better than traditional methods. A study recently undertaken by Harvard Business Review revealed that surgeons had a 230% increase in their overall performance when using the VR training method compared to their traditionally-trained peers. Those using VR training were also quicker and more accurate in performing operations too.

A whole new level of learning and teaching could be achieved by using virtual reality in medicine. Only a few students today get the chance to shadow a surgeon during an operation, so it’s difficult for them to learn the tips and tricks using this traditional method. By using virtual reality, cameras can be placed on the surgeon and in the operating room and the operation can be streamed globally, allowing students actually to watch as if they were there. Case Western University’s medical students are already learning by using devices like HoloLens. There is no doubt that VR holds tremendous potential in advancing training and medical education, and these examples will soon become standard practice.

2. Relaxing patients using Medical VR

As a patient, have you ever had that feeling where time just stops still in the hospital? There isn’t anything to do, you miss your friends and family, and you are always worrying about your illness? Hospital related anxiety, the ongoing worry about your upcoming operation, and the pain and suffering during or following a procedure can certainly be difficult for most people. A new and exciting solution is being presented by VR that will help patients to relax and reduce their anxiety levels.

Already piloted by patients having surgery at St George’s Hospital in London, they were given the option to wear a VR headset prior to and during their operation. They would view relaxing landscapes through the procedure. Every participant said that their hospital experience was better because of the VR headset, and 94% reported they felt more relaxed. Moreover, 73% reported that they felt less anxious, and 80% said they felt less pain after wearing the headset.

VR is also being used for childbirth. Helping women get through the agony of labor, which is known to be one of the most acute pains going, VR is being used. It is a great solution for those women who want to give birth naturally without worrying about it being a painful experience.

During earlier studies, patients with conditions like gastrointestinal, neurological, and post-surgical pain and cardiac have all experienced a reduction in their pain levels when using VR to distract them.

3. Real conferences with virtual reality for an improved experience

You may already know this through experience, but medical and healthcare conferences can be extremely tedious. Most have a distinct lack of engagement from the audience, extremely dull visuals, and overused bullet point presentations. Medical conferences are in desperate need of an overhaul. Here we bring you five ways in which medical conferences and VR can work together to improve audience interest.

Perhaps it’s an entertaining thought, wondering what the presenter and their audience would look like with VR headsets on their faces, however, it’s something of a reality already. An entire MedEd lecture was given in VR by Dr. Brennan Spiegel, and he also used the technology at the annual Virtual Medicine conference. The thought of such a presentation is extremely exciting, and not it can be a reality. VR possibilities are endless, with offerings like 3D gamification and visualization, engaging audiences, and the overall enhanced quality of a conference, this technology is going to take off big time!

4. Helping physicians experience life as the elderly

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to get old? What does it feel like when you’ve lost a finger, or you can’t hold your hands above your head? Or how it feels to recover from a heart attack? With VR, these experiences are now possible and are being used to help young doctors and medical students understand and develop one of the most important abilities in becoming a physician: empathy.

This theory was put to the test by the University of New England. They integrated age-related health concern simulation VR sessions into their medical school curriculum. The students who undertook these classes found it far easier to understand the conditions, and they saw a rise in their feelings of empathy for the elderly.

The University of Michigan is another university that has explored using VR in medical academia. Using the MPathic-VR app, students at the university could enhance their communication skills with a virtual human being. This proved very useful and a great training platform when delivering painful news.

5. Speeding up physical therapy recovery

Time is of the essence for those patients who have survived traumatic brain injury or a stroke. The sooner they begin rehabilitation; the more positive their chances are for having a successful recovery and regaining lost functions.

Introducing a gamified technique to physical therapy, brought to patients by Neuro Rehab VR. The company, in collaboration with therapists and doctors, develops VR training exercises with learning so that each exercise is tailored to the patient’s therapeutic requirements and needs. The aim is to increase patient engagement and bring more enjoyment to physical therapy.

These methods have been proven to be very effective. Researchers undertaking a study in November 2019 found that children with cerebral palsy had a higher increase in their mobility following VR therapy. The method proved to be so exceptional that the authors of the study called for it to be added to traditional rehabilitation techniques.

These are only a shortlist of the numerous examples of how VR is changing medicine for both medical professionals and patients. With advancing technology becoming more affordable, we will begin to see these innovations be adopted more wisely as more and more companies bring it to the forefront. For example, Magic Leap and Microsoft HoloLens give patients more interactive experiences with their mixed reality headsets. The devices, however, are fairly expensive and new.

On the other side of the coin, VR headsets can now be bought for as cheap as $5 with the Google Cardboard. But, for technology to be more openly available in a healthcare setting, changes in attitudes need to be made. Physicians and patients also need to be more open to technology if this is to happen. Once achieved, we should expect to see VR as a more prominent feature in healthcare in the future.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.