Five Ways Virtual Reality is Improving Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR)VR allows one to “enter” an alternative reality by wearing a head-mounted display (HMD) that lets users feel as if they are in the virtual world they see. This technology has mainly been used for entertainment, but over the past decade developers have expanded the capabilities of VR headsets and created programs that are now being used in healthcare.

Khor et al. wrote on the changing digital surgical environment and its effects on training and usage in surgeries. Khor et al. (2016) defined VR as technology that “generates an immersive, completely artificial computer-simulated image and environment with real-time interaction.” Entering an artificial world for education purposes has endless possibilities that would allow medical students and professionals to better understand the conditions of their patients and learn the skills to care for them in an entirely new way.

Virtual Reality in Healthcare

Train Medical Students

One of the most popular uses of VR in healthcare is to train medical students. In 2016, Dr. Shafi Ahmed performed the first operation to be live-streamed in 360-degree video. This allowed students worldwide to watch the live procedure online or through a VR headset (Davis, 2016).

This use of VR technology allows viewers to experience the entire operating room and learn from all members on the surgical team, having the potential to significantly change the educational opportunities available for students anywhere in the world.

Understand Patients’ Conditions

A project entitled “We are Alfred” by Embodied Labs uses VR to show students and doctors what many of their elderly patients with hearing or vision loss experience. This VR simulation helps break down the disconnect between medical professionals and their patients by fostering understanding and empathy (Meskó, 5 Ways).

Similarly, the company Viscira has created a VR program that allows practitioners to experience the hallucinations of a schizophrenic patient (Geyer, 2016).

Ease Phobias and Anxiety

VR has been used to treat patients with significant phobias through exposure therapy. The Virtual Reality Medical Center in California has been offering this treatment for over ten years, and has had significant success treating those with phobias and anxiety disorders (Wallis, 2016).

Additionally, a VR game named BraveMind was created specifically to treat soldiers suffering from PTSD. The creator, Skip Rizzo, built virtual scenarios similar to what soldiers may have experienced and explains, “I can put people in these worlds and change the time of day, lighting, ambient sounds, people walking around, insurgents popping up” (Geyer, 2016).

When commenting on the performance of VR when treating anxieties, Rizzo says, “Four meta analyses in the last six or seven years show VR outperforms traditional exposure…You can build a controlled environment, manipulate the stimuli to test, train or treat users under a range of conditions.” This ability to give immediate feedback and alter the simulation while the patient is in the environment provides an excellent option for patient therapy (Geyer, 2016).

Rehabilitate Stroke Victims

The Swiss company MindMaze has created a VR program called MindMotionPro to help patients who have suffered from a stroke practice moving their limbs (Meskó, 5 Ways).

Pain Management

The University of Washington’s HITLab collaborated with the Harborview Burn Center to create a VR program to help burn patients with pain management. Patients can enter “SnowWorld” when having their wound dressings changed in order to help distract them from the painful procedure (Wallis, 2016).


Davis, N. (2016). Cutting edge theatre: world’s first virtual reality operation goes live. The Guardian.

Geyer, S. (2016). What will augmented and virtual reality technology do for healthcare? Healthcare IT News.

Khor, W. S., Baker, B., Amin, K., Chan, A., Patel, K., & Wong, J. (2016). Augmented and virtual reality in surgery—the digital surgical environment: applications, limitations and legal pitfalls. Annals of Translational Medicine, 4(23), 454.

Meskó, B. (2017). 5 Ways medical virtual reality is already changing healthcare. The Medical Futurist.

Wallis, T. (2016). 6 VR uses that will blow your mind. VR Intelligence.

This article is taken from our recent complimentary RQI-focused eBook, The Future of Learning: New Technologies Influencing Clinical Development. Download the eBook here.