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How VR Will Transform Our Healthcare System

This year’s £1.1bn NHS budget cut is likely to create even more pressure for our over-burdened GP surgeries and hospitals, thus accelerating the need for new technology innovations such as virtual reality to challenge traditional methods of treatment and rehabilitation.

With its ability to place people into another environment, virtual reality (VR) has life-changing potential for patients who find themselves in and out of hospitals with long-standing health conditions. For example, patients with paralysis could use VR to assist with rehabilitation from the comfort of their own home. Patients prescribed VR equipment would not be limited to specific appointment times for treatment, they can have 24/7 access to work through rehab programmes at their own pace.

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VR also has the potential to transform the way after-care group therapy treatments are received by patients who struggle to open up about their rehabilitation and recovery. In Plextek’s research of 1,000 consumers, 78% of consumers voiced concern about current rehabilitation methods, explaining that they are just not productive for each personal recovery. Using anonymous avatars in a completely virtual session would offer the privacy and confidence for patients to confide in a protected environment, for more effective results.

It is also not just patients benefiting from VR in the healthcare space. This technology can enhance training for junior medics, immersing students in the hypothetical life of a patient where they may lack the same personal experiences. For example, impairments that develop with age can be difficult for a junior doctor to imagine, but by using VR training, they can experience what its like to live with these impairments at a more personal level. A great example of this is when Embodied Labs undertook a project called We Are Alfred, which uses VR to offer doctors the opportunity to experience an elderly patient’s life outside of the appointments, creating a more understanding doctor-patient relationship.

Despite all the positives, Plextek’s research also discovered hesitancy and concern amongst potential VR users because of the “unknowns” e.g. worries that independent unsupervised use of VR equipment could cause problems in situations when the patient has no emotional help from ‘real professionals’. The biggest concern and hesitancy tends to come from the older generation. Our research found that 70% of 65+ year olds were skeptical and stated they simply would not be interested in using VR; a stark contrast to the attitude of those in the 18-30 bracket. Clearly this highlights the need for education before VR treatment is introduced.

Despite this requirement for greater education about the benefits of VR, the potential to help save the NHS millions of pounds is enormous. If implemented successfully alongside other connected home technologies, the NHS could be looking at saving a massive 60% on the average cost per patient by taking the aftercare services away from the hospital, shortening hospital treatment times and effectively taking the pressure off doctors and nurses.

However, these are just the statistics and VR will not be introduced overnight. More educated awareness of its potential in the healthcare system needs to be communicated. As ultimately, VR could become a more generic platform with even greater patient results, if given the chance.

This article, written exclusively for VRFocus is a summary of Plextek’s paper ‘The Future of Connected Home Health’.