VR in Healthcare
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Top 10 Incredible Uses of VR in Healthcare13 min read

Explore how 10 amazing teams are utilizing immersive technology for good

Nick Rasmussen

It’s been a few years now since the launch of the Oculus and the HTC Vive, and the VR-hype-train seems to only be accelerating this. It almost stands to reason to assume that gaming and entertainment are still the two primary content drivers behind the technology, yet other areas and industries of our day-to-day life seems to have gradually built up courage and taken a look at what made VR appetizing, and then applied it to their own fields of work. We’ve seen educational content for schools, commercial examples engaging consumers and yes – even VR healthcare, which we will be discussing today.

Let’s explore 10 incredible examples of medical virtual reality. All of these individual projects are herculean accomplishments in their own right, and they all do a great deal of good while also embracing the use of VR in healthcare, which is the rationale for this not being a numbered list. Without further ado, let’s get to it!


Virtual Reality (VR) Pain Relief UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland

First up we have KindVR, a California-based research-company whose medical virtual reality mission is to help patients mitigate pain and stress through the use of custom-built VR software for specific medical procedures and conditions. The team has since its launch been partnering with hospitals not only in America, but Canada as well. A case study is briefly available for us all to see, as the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland launched a video recently. In the video (available right above) the team presents just how they utilize VR in healthcare to help patients with Sickle Cell Disease remove focus from their pain and make life a little easier, if only for a brief moment of time.

Medical Field: Pain Relief
Company / Organization: KindVR

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Treating Bipolar Disorder With Virtual Reality

More than 1 in 4 people will have some variation of mental health issue during their lifetime. That is a fact of life. The good news is that it’s a statistical figure that researchers and technological innovators in the mental health industry are constantly attempting to reduce. The means through which this has been done are close to innumerable – however, thanks to virtual reality there are new means of which we can approach the issue.

“If you see somebody looking at you, and for you that’s a trigger to become anxious. That also, will be triggered in a VR environment. Your heart will go faster, and you will start sweating. That’s where it starts to become interesting.”Lucia Valmaggia – Clinical psychologist.

At King’s Clinical Research Facility, Lucia Valmaggi, a UK-based clinical psychologist is working in a cutting-edge VR healthcare research lab on how to treat bipolar disorder. Inside the lab, its motion sensors, allows the user to walk through a virtual environment that will trigger a patient for a particular reaction.

Medical Field: Mental Health
Company / Organization: King’s College, London

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PTSD Treatments, VR in Healthcare, Support and Sexual Assault Prevention

Moving on, we’ll be covering another American player in the field, who have had years of experience working with technology-based mental rehabilitation – namely, the work by the Institute for Creative Technologies the University of Southern California. Here, at Playa Vista, several incredibly high-production projects are constantly taking shape, led by the team’s director Skip Rizzo who we at the editorial had a brief chance to meet when he attended VR Days in Amsterdam back in 2016.

“VR is an evocative technology. It can bring out emotions that sometimes can’t come out in other ways. This is where VR shines. You can put people in simulations that bring up an emotion, and then teach them ways to deal with that emotion in an appropriate fashion”Skip Rizzo

Some of the lab’s projects include delivering cognitive or physical rehab after someone’s had a stroke or traumatic brain injury for instance as well as teaching people with autism some social skills. These are just a few examples, and the team is working on plenty of projects that will make your jaw drop when you realize just how far they are pushing the boundaries of VR in healthcare. In fact, here’s a handful of selected projects we thought you might want to check out, just so you can get an idea of how vast this project really is:

The project is funded by the US army. The army has a plethora of different research labs around the world, yet this particular one has a focus on VR and innovative technologies.Their work on mental health and rehabilitation is undisputed and known worldwide for being state-of-the-art content. When we attended the VR Days event, we couldn’t walk across a group of people without at one point hearing a reference to the work Skip and the team is doing. We wish them the best of luck in their pursuits!

Medical Field: Mental Health, Rehabilitation
Company / Organization: USC Institute for Creative Technologies

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Cancer Surgeon Trains 13.000+ Medical Students Through Live 360° Video

Next, we have the acclaimed 2016 live streaming of a cancer-based medical procedure, which was recorded in live 360° video while 13.000+ medical students from all around the world were checking in and taking notes along the way. An incredible new way to learn complicated medical operations for sure.

The surgeon behind this undertaking was Professor Shafi Ahmed, a UK-based cancer surgeon, entrepreneur, and TEDx speaker whose medical virtual reality achievements has carved his name into the cornerstone of medical virtual reality. The work carried out by Professor Shafi has attracted the attention of a swarm of journalists from the world’s leading tech publications such as Business Insider, The Guardian, Wired and many other high-profile news outlets. If the end goal is to unify and educate the medical community as a whole, then this is one incredible example of how to do it with VR in healthcare.

Apart from saving the lives of patients on his table, Professor Shafi also runs the Medical Realities platform, which is designed on the very same principle; to give surgical and medical training to people around the world and thus shattering the borders and barriers separating people of different geographies and nationalities from medical education.

Note: Medical Realities recently launched as a top-rated app on the Android Play Store, and can be downloaded for free here.

Medical Field: Surgery, Education
Company / Organization: Medical Realities

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Revolutionizing Heart Surgery – Stanford Medicine & Lighthouse Inc

Dr. David Axelrod, a pediatric cardiologist from Stanford recently teamed up with David Sarno who runs the Lighthouse Inc. Together they work together to facilitate a new way for patients and doctors to communicate.

“As a paediatric cardiologist, you have to be able to visualize this organ, because people’s lives depend on it. But visualizing a complex three-dimensional organ on paper, really doesn’t give you the full picture, which is why we decided that there has to be a better way” – David Axelrod. Co-Lead, CVICU Simulation Training Program

Their creation, the Stanford Virtual Heart is a brand new way for us to help ease the communication between cardiologist and patients and is a groundbreaking new way of in. The heart uses 360 graphics to display congenital heart defects and much more.

Being able to eloquently and accurately explain how something works is essential if you have any kind of profession where responsibility is involved – especially evolving other peoples health. With virtual reality, now it’s possible for us to take a deep look into the human body and explore every cell and organism.

Medical Field: Cardiology, Storytelling
Company / Organization: Lighthouse Inc, Stanford Medicine

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Oncomfort Facilitates VR-based Pain Relief and Self Management for Cancer Patients

It would seem that the use of Virtual Reality as a tool for good has reached far and wide these past few years. Next up on our list is the Belgium-based Oncomfort, an award-winning company whose main focus and heart-warming mission are to utilize VR technology to provide patients (mainly with cancer) with anxiety and pain self-management tools.

“Oncomfort leverages virtual reality technology to help train patients in stress management techniques, give them easy-to- understand information, and help them feel more in control, calm, and comfortable.” – Diane Jooris

In a world where the main discussion around “what’s going to make or break the industry”, this makes the mentioning of whether or not these devices might run the latest version of Grand Theft Auto entirely obsolete. The fact that this thing we do can make life even a little bit easier for those unfortunate enough to find themselves with a diagnose like that, is reason enough for us to keep going.

The company focuses on the use of the Samsung GearVR which arguably is one of the most efficient pieces of mobile VR technology in healthcare. Its visual capabilities are one of the most refined in the realm of mobile VR. The use of a plug-and-play solution makes it quick and easy for the team to initiate treatment without the use of heavy machinery. Efficient, emphatic, effective.

Medical Field: Pain Relief, Anxiety Management
Company / Organization: Oncomfort

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Pre-operative Anxiety Relief – Sunnybrook Hospital, Canada

Canada is often being heralded as the Scandinavia of the Americas, and today we’re going to be looking at how one little Canadian hospital is utilizing virtual reality for their patients. Dr. Falhad Allam from the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is researching the use of virtual reality to help ease pre-surgery anxiety.

“Pre-operative anxiety has significant morbidity and mortality, in the sense that it can lead to complications such as prolonged stay in hospitals, decreased range of motion after surgery, increased wound infections” – Dr. Falhad Allam 

From his lab in Sunnybrook Canada, he is leading a brand-new research project to help reduce the levels of pre-operative anxiety in patients and is currently one of the only hospitals in Canada researching virtual reality and its place in a health-care setting.

Medical Field: Pain Relief, Anxiety Relief
Company / Organization: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

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VR-Tech Helps Paraplegics Regain Muscle Control

Through the use of VR-based simulation and a brain-wave controlled robotic suit, eight patients suffering from severe spinal cord injuries have managed to regain partial neurological control over their lower bodies after an extensive 12-month training program. There are even sources stating that some have regained muscle control later on.

“Nobody ever imagined that one day, we will be talking about the possibility of using brain-machine interface to induce partial neurological recovery in patients who have been diagnosed as having complete spinal cord injury.” – Dr. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina

This is massive, and while we’re only in the very early stages of figuring out just how the use of Virtual Reality assisted and accelerated the use of the Exoskeleton, it’s still a tremendous achievement that deserves a spot on today’s list nonetheless.

If you have the know-how and mental fortitude to read through it, the entirety of the study is freely available as a PDF here.

Medical Field: Rehabilitation
Company / Organization: Duke University

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You VR – Biological Healthcare Simulation Software

We have reached the final item on the list, and this one is surely a force to be reckoned with. YouVR is a platform created by BioLucid that allows you to explore a virtual version of a biological human body. According to their company profile, BioLucid is a digital health company committed to Making Health Visual and providing solutions for effective visual communication.

“YouVR is the ultimate exploration inside of the human body. Fully immersive, living, breathing simulated human body” – Jeff Hazelton, Co-Founder, BioLucid

This simple yet powerful piece of software has been adopted by educational and health-based institutions on a large scale and is going strong to this day. The application is one of the most visually stunning examples of medical VR software available right now.

Medical Field: Education, Simulation
Company / Organization: BioLucid

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Neuroscientists Utilizing VR to Fight Memory Loss

Nanthia Suthana is using virtual reality to help her patients fight memory loss.

Memory Loss is something that through Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of families around the world. It’s estimated that there are 5 million cases in America alone. With this being the case, there’s a natural call for the best and brightest in the field of neuroscience to innovate and improve the way we approach the subject.

“If we can understand what’s happening in the brain when these memories are recalled or formed, then potentially we can develop therapies for patients who has memory disorders such as Alzheimers disease” – Nanthia Suthana , Neuroscientist, UCLA

Nanthia studies learning and memory and utilizes VR memory experiments to facilitate her research.

Medical Field: Memory Loss, Mental Health
Company / Organization: David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA

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Summary: Medical Virtual Reality

Throughout the past 50 years, the capabilities of science, health, and medicine have expanded significantly and like VR, it looks like we’re constantly finding new ways to improve. It seems almost a daily occurrence now, that technology finds a way to accelerate the way we operate within our healthcare facilities. We’re thankful (and truthfully excited to see) that immersive technology has some practical usage towards healing the world as well. VR in healthcare is here to stay.

We thank you for your visit to this list of incredible uses of medical virtual reality. If you happen to have stumbled across something exciting in the field of health and medicine that ought to be on our list, let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Nick Rasmussen

Blogging about VR and helping Envato grow their affiliate program.