Virtual reality (VR) is set to revolutionize many industries, but healthcare is only now starting to emerge at the top of the list. Though promising as a technological tool for healthcare providers to give better care, and for patients to receive care more conveniently, it’s only going to be successfully integrated if hospitals are prepared for that integration. And since the technology is on the verge of stabilization and widespread adoption, the time for that preparation is now.
What VR in Healthcare Will Look Like
First, it’s important to understand some of the most important potential applications of VR in the healthcare industry:
- Training. VR can be used as a way to facilitate faster, more efficient training; surgeons-in-training can view procedures remotely, but in a fully immersive setting, or even practice on a simulated patient.
- Remote patient care. VR can also give more immersive, almost-in-person experiences to patients who have a hard time leaving home, revolutionizing telemedicine and remote care.
- Better patient experiences. If applied in the hospital directly, VR can make patients more comfortable, or give them a better overall experience.
- Rehabilitation. VR can also be used for physical rehabilitation, helping patients with PTSD or with chronic pain. In fact, VR that’s already in use is capable of helping stroke and brain-injury patients reduce pain levels by 24 percent—just in the first 10 minutes of interacting with a specialized program called Pain RelieVR.
What Hospitals Should Be Doing Now
So what should your hospital start doing now to prepare for this eventuality?
- Offering information to patients. Hospitals need to communicate the details and possibilities of this technology, especially to younger audiences, as soon as possible and as completely as possible. One of the biggest limitations for the adoption of this technology is user familiarity and comfort, so proactively dispelling myths, citing important studies, and getting patients used to the idea of incorporating VR can lead to higher and faster rates of adoption.
- Incorporating some telemedicine. Telemedicine is already possible through today’s video chatting apps and other digital interfaces. Incorporating more telemedicine-based treatment in your hospital can help gradually shift your staff and patient expectations, so they can come to terms with remote care more completely. The transition from telemedicine to VR medicine will be less extreme than from in-person only to VR medicine.
- Educating and training younger staff members. Your youngest staff members, who will be dealing with VR for the longest time, and who might even undergo training with this new technology, deserve to be updated with the latest information on how the tech works, how it can be incorporated, and how it can evolve in the future.
- Attending seminars and workshops. You won’t have all the answers yourself, and you can’t stay tuned to the latest updates just by reading the news. It’s important to have at least a handful of staff members attend seminars and workshops regularly, learning about the latest advancements in medical technology, and reporting back to the rest of your organization so you can use that new information to make better decisions.
- Getting social. When you discover new information at those seminars and expos, don’t keep it to yourself; make sure your staff posts pictures and facts about the experience through your social media accounts. Doing so has a number of benefits; it keeps your employees and patients in the loop, and also makes your hospital look like a leader in new tech and new procedures. It also normalizes the adoption of VR, hopefully leading to higher adoption rates and patient satisfaction in the near future.
- Setting aside funds. Finally, start setting aside funds to invest in VR devices that can make your hospital better-equipped. Depending on when you want to start incorporating the technology, you can even buy some industry-leading VR devices now. VR isn’t as expensive as some of your other equipment, but it’s still a significant expense that can’t be ignored, so the sooner you start budgeting for it, the better.
When Will It Matter?
If you think preparing for VR in healthcare is too forward-thinking, you should understand the potential timeline for this technology in a healthcare setting. Already, companies like 3D Systems, Level Ex, and Osso VR are working to provide VR-assisted surgical training to young surgeons. 3D renderings and augmented reality simulations of real-life structures are making it possible for doctors to learn more interactively, and train in lifelike conditions.