Virtual reality a rising force in the global healthcare industry

SINGAPORE – Virtual reality (VR) has commonly been associated with gaming and entertainment, but it has also been making waves in hospitals and clinics across the world in recent years.

Doctors are increasingly applying this technology across a spectrum of uses, from medical training to diagnosing and treating different conditions, to easing a patient’s anxiety before and during a medical procedure.

The global market for virtual reality in healthcare was valued at US$2.14 billion (S$2.92 billion) in 2019 and is projected to reach US$33.72 billion by 2027, according to a Verified Market Research report in July.

In a pilot study done last year, patients undergoing wide-awake surgery at St George’s Hospital in London had the option to use a VR headset before and during their operation to view calming landscapes.

All the participants reported that their overall hospital experience was improved by wearing the headset, while 94 per cent said they felt more relaxed.

Furthermore, 80 per cent said they felt less pain after wearing the headset and 73 per cent reported feeling less anxious.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Shamim Umarji, who led the study, said: “Many patients feel quite anxious about the prospect of being awake during surgery, so it’s fantastic to see the positive impact virtual reality can have on the patient experience. As surgeons we occasionally lose sight of how daunting the operating theatre can be.”

A research team at the University of Utah in the United States has also found VR to be useful in building balance skills in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The technology has successfully improved patients’ obstacle negotiation and balance, as well as their confidence in moving around in their environment, according to their findings published in peer-reviewed journal Experimental Biology.

VR has also been effective in training surgeons as well as teaching medical students.

Last year, a study from Harvard Business Review showed that training using VR technology improved participants’ overall surgical performance by 230 per cent compared with traditional training methods.

The participants from the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, were able to complete procedures on average 20 per cent faster and more accurately.

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