Virtual Reality in Healthcare

David Chou has an interesting post up over at the Healthcare Standards blog that talks about virtual reality (VR) and where we’ll see it in healthcare. He posits the following 3 areas of healthcare where the healthcare industry can benefit:

  1. Training
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Treatment

I can’t argue with David’s assessment of how virtual reality solutions will be used in healthcare. I think the most promising of these is likely in the medical training area. However, there are no doubt going to be some great treatment options that use VR as well.

The problem with virtual reality in healthcare is that none of the virtual reality companies are going to focus any of their effort on healthcare. Everyone that I talked to at CES (see all our coverage of Digital Health at CES) made it very clear that VR technology was going to start with gaming and video. That opportunity is so large that they don’t have any time or need to go after other markets.

This isn’t to say that virtual reality won’t be used in healthcare. What I’m saying is that virtual reality vendors aren’t going to be doing things to make it easy for healthcare to adopt their technologies. Innovators that want to use virtual reality in healthcare are going to have to take and adapt what’s built for other industries and apply it to healthcare.

Here’s a simple example. I saw an amazing number of 360 degree camera options that are paired with virtual reality. You literally can turn around and see what’s happening all around you as if you were standing in a room. It’s quite amazing technology (although there was some digital stiching that still needs to be improved) and you could see some application of the technology in healthcare. The problem is that it’s unlikely that this video technology is going to be HIPAA compliant by default. Let’s not even talk about these vendors signing a HIPAA business associate agreement.

This example is why I think the medical training aspect of virtual reality is so promising. It’s not governed by HIPAA and so the technology doesn’t have to worry about those requirements and regulations. The same is true for treatment. The problem there is that for it to truly be classified as a treatment, it’s going to have to go through FDA testing and/or clinical trials. The pace of change is moving so fast with virtual reality technology that by the time you finished a clinical trial or became FDA cleared the old virtual reality technology you used will be considered legacy software and hardware.

With all of this said, I had a chance to try out the next generation Oculus Riftat the Dell venue and it was an extraordinary experience. I got lost in the virtual world (I was playing a simple video game) and completely forgot that I was in a noisy bar. I’m excited to see all of the places virtual reality will pop up. That includes in healthcare.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

2 Comments

  • Hi John,

    Your idea that VR has great value in healthcare is spot on. Now, the idea that the developers won’t go there just yet because there is more money in video games is very interesting. Here’s why.

    If that is true, either:

    a. They are right, and healthcare just isn’t a big enough market to spend their resources trying to solve it, and there isn’t enough value in VR for healthcare to pay developers to get cracking on it or…

    b. They are wrong and the VR market is making a grand miscalculation.

    Let me go out on a limb here (since, as you know, I enjoy it there!) and suggest that if you are correct and the VR sector sees more opportunity – read $$$ – in gaming, they are shortsighted. Healthcare is approaching 20% of the economy. That is where the economic action is. And there is a huge unmet social need, so any tech developers who put their mighty efforts toward solving healthcare’s Triple Aim – the cost, access, quality problems – are doing a lot of social good, as well. Recently, I have seen healthcare’s Triple Aim revamped as the Quadruple Aim, adding provider experience (should we call it PX?) as the other important arm of the healthcare-dilemma equation. Tech isn’t even close to getting PX right yet.

    I agree that the value of VR is in training, diagnostics and treatment, and let me add just about everything else. Imagine doctor visits. Just think about the ongoing, massive potential in every way. And no, you may not have HIPAA problems in most training – except when you need to train in live environments – but I have written a lot of training for the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA regulates those programs. We have to jump through a lot of medical and legal regulatory hoops to get some types of training approved.

    The regulatory environment for using the technology in training, tx, dx is another post, right?

    Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention.

    Take care,
    Peggy

  • Peggy,
    Some great points. I think it’s like most people that look at healthcare. Implementing technology in healthcare is hard. The regulations are hard. The old boys club is hard. etc etc etc. Of course, once you crack that nut, it makes your company more valuable, but I understand why many don’t want to enter healthcare.

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