Technology, Healthcare 101

How Virtual Reality Delivers Real Benefits for Healthcare


When we think of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), perhaps the first thing that comes to mind are those futuristic headset devices favored by gamers. Beyond recreational uses, however, immersive VR and AR technologies are driving a range of exciting breakthroughs in medical training as well as patient care. 

When it comes to being a doctor, students learn by doing as well as by studying. As such, medical students training to become physicians need access to scenarios and environments that closely simulate the real world of patient care. That includes getting access to cadavers that allow them to learn anatomy and practice performing procedures, hands-on. 

VR and AR have the potential to replace 2D illustrations in medical books and cadavers in labs with virtual bodies students can rotate and even dissect. Using VR and AR tools, medical students can also be “placed” in virtual environments that look and feel like real-world settings, including emergency rooms and doctor’s offices, where they can treat, assess, and diagnose virtual patients with zero risk.  

More than science fiction, VR and AR are tangible technologies being employed for medical training. At Stanford University, medical students use VR headsets to practice high-risk and complex pediatric trauma care. Students are actually able to see inside an infant’s heart to diagnose defects, and can even manipulate the organ to understand how the defects impact the infant’s health1. 

A growing number of academic hospitals are turning to VR and AR to transform classrooms into immersive, interactive environments that, in essence, put the medical students right there. UCLA, Mayo Clinic, and Stanford University, for example, use VR classrooms to simulate surgical theaters while a surgeon presents a case and shares surgical techniques1. 

While training the next generation of doctors, VR and AR are helping today’s practicing medical professionals provide a higher level of patient-centric care. Using realistic, multi-dimensional VR and AR imagery, doctors can better show and explain conditions and procedures to their patients. This helps empower patients to take a more active role in their own care, while raising their comfort and confidence levels in the provider who’s diagnosing and treating them. 

While improving care at the bedside, VR and AR are also helping improve outcomes in the operating room. Inside surgical theaters, more doctors are using VR and AR to simulate the organs they’re going to operate on, and map out surgeries and procedures step by step, before they make a single incision2. 

VR and AR technologies have promising applications for an array of therapies and treatments beyond surgery, as well. Patients who are recovering from procedures, stroke, or cardiac arrest can use VR-enabled games, movies, interactive guides, and other tools to help their recovery and improve mobility. VR therapies have also shown to have positive benefits for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s, with virtual environments that can reduce aggression and improve interaction3. These technologies can help people suffering from chronic pain find relief, with virtual guided meditations, walks, and other experiences in soothing, beautiful environments4. 

VR and AR have demonstrated to be effective in treating mental health conditions, as well, including anxiety disorders — particularly for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). VR and AR technology lends itself well to a type of treatment for PTSD known as exposure therapy, by immersing patients in virtual environments that replicate the traumatic events they experienced in a safe and carefully supervised setting.  

Trained therapists and medical professionals monitor their patients’ stress responses and reactions to these virtual scenarios to better understand how to treat and help them manage their anxiety. Exposure therapy using VR and AR has also shown to be effective in helping people overcome a range of phobias including fear of flying, social anxiety, and claustrophia1.  

The positive impact of VR and AR innovation on medical training, patient care, and outcomes is quickly becoming, well, a reality. At SureCo, we’re also taking an innovative approach to help more people access and afford the very latest in healthcare services. Call (800) 467-4898 to learn more. 



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