VR healthcare and how an Oculus Rift might save a life


It’s often said that there’s more to virtual reality than gaming.

There are VR movies (and those 360-degree videos pretending to be VR movies); interactive VR experiences; immersive historical recreations (like joining the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969); virtual museums; training simulations; there’s even the prospect of VR healthcare.

The idea that VR can help us to be healthier or that a headset can treat illnesses might sound far-fetched. After all, early virtual reality experiences often caused people to feel sick. Extended immersion wearing an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive still can.

But virtual reality also has the potential to cure, rehabilitate and relax.

VR healthcare will be huge

There’s big money in VR healthcare. MindMaze, for example, is a $1 billion startup developing VR hardware and software solutions for medical therapy. Its MindMotionPRO system already delivers virtual reality exercises to help patients recover their motor skills after a stroke or brain injury.

Virtual reality can also be used to treat psychological disorders. The Virtual Reality Medical Center in the US, for example, uses VR as exposure therapy to treat phobias that range from arachnophobia to a fear of heights. Its VR Flight treatment combines a virtual representation of an aircraft cabin with a seat (fitted with a rumbling linear motor).

“[This] linear motor, when triggered by audio signals from a 2100 watt amplifier, allows the subject to feel both the rough turbulence of storms and the light vibrations of cruising,” says VRMC. “Finally, with the inclusion of surround sound, the VR Flight simulation can command the visual, audio, and interactive aspects of the flight experience in the safety of a clinic.”

VR training sessions

Surgical training is another area where VR can contribute to modern healthcare. Back in April, Dr. Shafi Ahmed removed cancerous tissue from a patient while streaming the operation live and in 360-degree video. Thanks to VR, viewers couldn’t just watch Dr. Ahmed at work, but see what the rest of the surgical team were doing, experiencing the noise and tension of a busy operating theatre up close.

This training aspect to VR healthcare is the reason why developer Vedavi has created VR Human Anatomy, an interactive medical animation designed for the Oculus Rift and its Touch controllers. You can watch it in action below.

VR as pain relief?

We know that virtual reality can be a distraction, a chance to leave the real world behind and to step into virtual worlds where almost anything is possible. Fly a star fighter in EVE: Valkyrie. Get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in Project Cars. These distractions can have medical benefits, particularly when it comes to pain relief.

At the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, doctors are using VR to help children suffering from sickle cell disease. “The more immersive — the more we block out the rest of the world — and the more engaged you are in the VR, the more we distract you from the pain,” explained Walter Greenleaf, director of the Mind Division at Stanford University.

Don’t let anybody tell you that VR is just a toy. Or a fad. Immersion never felt so good.

Get the best VR experience with a SAPPHIRE VR-Ready graphics card.

Main image: Medical Realities
Dean Evans
Dean Evans is a long-time gamer and reviewer who built his first PC at the age of eight. He is powered by That Media Thing, a collective of journalists who believe in the power of passionate content.