Male doctor on a gray background using a Virtual Reality Glasses, looking at a virtual heart 2048 x 1365
Photosource: iStock Photo

Virtual reality has come a long way in the past twenty-five years. We’ve seen significant improvements and strides in terms of hardware and software. What started as science fiction is now science fact, and virtual reality is fast becoming one of the most exciting advancements the healthcare industry has ever witnessed.

Scientific communication companies continue to widen the scope of how virtual reality can be used for scientific storytelling and drug visualization. This forms the foundation of marketing campaigns for pharmaceutical companies, ranging from small pharma and biotech companies to huge global pharmaceutical giants.

The term “virtual reality” is actually quite new — it first appeared in the 1980s when Jaron Lanier of VPL Research first coined the term. He worked on ground-breaking research that laid the foundation for the devices used in virtual reality today. Fast forward today, and science and health industries benefit from virtual reality in many ways, in both educational and healthcare practices.

Let’s take a look at some ways the science of virtual reality is changing the field of healthcare for the better. Though certainly not an exhaustive list, below are three significant ways in which virtual reality has left its mark on our healthcare systems.

1. Scientific Virtual Reality Has Helped to Simplify and Enhance Medical Procedures

To truly understand how virtual reality has made an impact on medicine and medical procedures, we need to look no further than one of the most intimate medical procedures — the endoscopy. An endoscopy can be an invasive and painful procedure, which may lead to bleeding and other such discomforts. It is also generally quite expensive. Thankfully, as technology has advanced, virtual reality has stepped in and changed this procedure for the better.

Virtual endoscopy is “an imaging technique in which cross-sectional images acquired by computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging are processed by a computer to reconstruct a three-dimensional display similar to that seen through an endoscope.”

A virtual endoscopy is not invasive, as it is not an exact endoscopy procedure but rather an imaging test. This means it is patient-friendly and no drugs are needed to be given to the patient.

Virtual endoscopy uses surface rendering and volume rendering techniques. Once the images of the organs from different perspectives are collected, they are combined to create three-dimensional portraits. The result looks similar to how it would have looked if the doctors had performed an actual endoscopy procedure. On top of this, a virtual endoscopy offers advantages in that doctors can change the angle or magnify the image, which can help with diagnosis and, therefore, treatment.

2. Scientific Virtual Reality Has Improved Medical Education and Training

One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about virtual reality and medical interaction is education and training. For any medical student or trainee trying to understand human anatomy, virtual reality is immensely important and hugely beneficial.

One of the breakthroughs for students of medicine has been the virtual reality “Visible Human” database, created by the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine. Scientists are currently working on the ability to depict organ movements, among other things, by using different virtual reality dynamic models.

In a sense, virtual reality in science adds another dimension when it comes to education in healthcare. The human body is a fantastic and complex work of engineering. Though doctors know a lot about the human body, there is still a lot yet to learn. Virtual reality is aiding doctors in that exploration.

Virtual reality is also helping surgeons during surgery — these doctors sometimes find themselves in a predicament during surgery. They might discover too late that it is beyond their particular training or experience. This is especially true for surgeons in third world countries. With the use of augmented virtual reality, surgeons can call on their peers to virtually join the operation in real time. Virtual Interactive Presence and Augmented Reality (VIPAR) even makes it possible for mentors to guide surgeons using Google Glasses.

3. Scientific Virtual Reality and Medical Storytelling

In a 1966 movie called Fantastic Voyage, a government official’s life was in danger, so the scientists involved come up with a brilliant idea. They shrink a submarine filled with a few brave people and inject it into the bloodstream of the government official. The movie — the first of its kind — follows the heroes as they travel through the human body.

Today we do not need to rely on imagination and fiction to save someone’s life in this way. Pharmaceuticals today can use state-of-the-art technology that can fully immerse their prospect into three-dimensional film sets and take them on a real “Fantastic Voyage” inside the human body. With virtual reality, users feel they are there on the scene, watching red blood cells float alongside them or following a signaling pathway into the nucleus.

This means virtual reality offers a platform where the biological process can be easily understood by everyone sitting at the table whether that be a scientist, businessman, student or investor.

What we mentioned and explored above is by no means an exhaustive list when it comes to how scientific virtual reality is changing healthcare. In fact, we have only scratched the surface. Much like the discovery of penicillin and the advancement of MRI machines, the advancement of virtual reality represents an exciting and momentous era for healthcare and patients alike. Medical professionals around the globe are watching with interest to see how this new field will change medicine in the years to come.


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