Will 2016 be a year of virtual reality? This question has been discussed over last six months in the major media outlets such as Fortune Magazine, BBC, Bloomberg, Venture Beat and The Guardian. With Oculus Rift coming into retail, new generations of headsets and growing amount of high-quality content, the technology is becoming a reality, opening a lot of new business opportunities. While the video games industry is the absolute market leader, other industries are beginning to incorporate augmented and virtual reality technologies into their systems.

No wonder venture capitalists and other investors have moved from skeptical spectator seats to active participants. They injected $658 million in virtual reality startups in 2015 and $1.1 billion in just the first three months of 2016. Interestingly, more than half of the investments have been made in early stage companies, with seed and angel funding accounting for 59% of all the money.

According to the latest study conducted by Goldman Sachs, the industry growth will continue and in ten years, virtual and augmented reality will yield $80 billion in revenues ($23 billion in the bear-case and $182 billion in the bull-case respectively).

 

Serious Games

One industry that has greatly benefited from the technological innovations is health care. According to the same study, it will be the number two largest market for augmented and virtual reality. This technology has been already employed for diagnostics and the planning of treatments, training of future surgeons and dentists, treatment of severe conditions such as phobias, PTSD, autism, depression, addictions, and rehabilitation after life threatening diseases.

Virtual Reality Healthcare

  • Doctors often deal with unmotivated and depressed Keeping them engaged through various games can make a difference in the success of the treatment. Rapael Smart Glove – a wearable bio-feedback device for stroke rehabilitation. Its sensor data is transmitted via Bluetooth from the patient’s hand, and the software creates 3D training games adjusting the difficulty level according to the participant’s performance. Caregivers can design custom rehabilitation programs by combining the games.
  • Virtual reality has been used as a training tool for future surgeons and first responders, providing them with the option of practicing on simulators using programs such as VirtaMed. Besides teaching the students the nuances of operating on a patient in emergency situations, it helps them understand the exact angle and pressure required to operate on any organ.
  • A cancer surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, Shafi Ahmed, recently livestreamed an operation using the software developed at his VR startup Medical Realities. More than 50,000 people worldwide watched the process on their smartphone and computer screens or VR headsets. The spectators could zoom in on the doctor’s movements and “walk” around to observe the operation from various angles.
  • Products designed by Surgical Theater have been used to plan hundreds of head surgeries. They make tumors, vessels and tissue transparent, establishing multiple views, and allowing to rotate and interact with the navigation image to see behind pathology and vital structures. Besides helping medical professionals, the program is used to educate patients so they could better understand the procedure and feel less stressed knowing what to expect.
  • Virtual reality can help reduce paranoia, phobias, and PTSD. PsyTech is designing Phobos to help millions of people struggling with these conditions. The patients are gradually introduced to the object of their fear through virtual reality simulations, ramping up the exposure until they were able to cope without stress. Even short sessions show major improvements. The procedure offers huge cost savings, making it affordable for veterans, civilians who went through traumatic experiences and everybody else suffering social anxiety disorders.

 

Why VR/AR Is The Future Of Health Care

Aging global population, wars affecting lives of millions of people, economical inequalities between different countries and geographical barriers preventing those who live in remote areas from receiving timely quality care require a drastic change in how we solve the problem. Breakthroughs in science and technology, including the new era in virtual and augmented reality are making it possible.

VR and AR technologies improve education and treatments’ effectiveness, making available more engaging, motivational and safe environment. They are more cost-friendly and through telemedicine, offer unprecedented access to high-quality care for people worldwide. Recent experiments also have proven that the immersive technologies foster empathy between caretakers and their patients, helping them better understand each other.

The market will continue to grow. We will see an increased amount of diverse content, better software and hardware communications, sophisticated sensors, artificial intelligence, and more affordable solutions. All of this, combined with additional data from research labs, will lead to a higher level of VR technology adoption both by the healthcare institutions and patients.

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