Healthcare uses of virtual reality technology worldwide should mushroom over the next several years, generating more than $30 billion within seven years, a research firm predicts. (I don’t know about you, but that number was much higher than I would have expected!)
According to Fortune Business Insights, the healthcare VR market stood at $1.56 billion in 2018 and climb to $30.4 billion by 2026, which represents a brisk compound annual growth rate of 42.4%. Among the key use cases driving this expansion include pain management, patient care management, rehab/therapy and treatment of PTSD.
Researchers said one of the reasons healthcare VR use should expand substantially is the inclusion of VR capabilities in wearables devices, which could eventually allow physicians to conduct visits in VR space. Also, with the increased deployment of 5G communications systems, which among other things offer increased bandwidth, the infrastructure to support IoT, augmented reality and VR will be more readily available, they noted.
The report specifically cites Amazon Care, the e-retailer’s virtual primary care offering, as one of the companies which will benefit from the increased viability of VR options. Other companies it lists as having a foot in the healthcare VR market include Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Facebook and a host of smaller technology vendors.
Personally, I haven’t seen any VR-driven applications which appear to offer a practical environment for delivering medical services. Of course, if healthcare organizations build VR applications specifically for use as a clinical environment, they are likely to be higher-end than the consumer options available today, but If the consumer social VR platforms I’ve tested to date (such as Altspace VR) are any indication, we’re far from the point where a viable VR exam room will make sense.
That being said, there’s more reason to believe that VR applications allowing a single user to interact with appropriate content—such as PTSD treatment or pain management—will be widespread sooner.
Other use cases include platforms like the one developed by AppliedVR, which is designed to help patients cope with the anxiety and stress involved in being a hospital patient, in areas including labor and delivery, burn units and emergency departments. Patients who use its platform can choose from a range of “experiences” it has developed, including breath training, guided relaxation, interactive games and pain education. Its hospital partners include Boston Children’s Hospital, Cedars-Sinai, UC San Francisco and the Hospital for Special Surgery.
All told, I think it’s fair to say that VR is beyond the “solution looking for a problem” stage and could well be a mainstream healthcare tool within a few years. However, it’s likely healthcare VR platforms will evolve considerably before we sort out just what uses are the most valuable.