Virtual reality has brought exciting advances in the entertainment and gaming worlds, with a handful of VR headsets gaining popularity in the consumer market. Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive propel you into a virtual world of 360-degree experiences, from fully immersive movies to ultra-realistic shooter games.
Augmented reality is a twist on the trend, combining digital information with whatever is actually right in front of you. Microsoft is the big leader in this space right now, with HoloLens, a glass visor that overlays a hologram on top of your real-world view.
You’ve certainly heard about the first commercially successful example of AR: Pokemon Go, a smartphone app that has players exploring the physical world using a digital map, searching for virtual cartoon characters that pop up onscreen at random. And for years now we’ve been experiencing augmented reality every time we watch a football game on TV. When I cheered on my Florida Gators as they destroyed the Kentucky Wildcats last weekend, the “magic yellow line” provided a virtual indicator of how many yards my team needed to go for yet another first down.
Now VR and AR technologies are poised to transfer to a wide array of industries, from automotive to architecture, from travel to home improvement. They will also have a substantial impact on healthcare, and ultimately will prove to be just as disruptive and pervasive as smartphones are in the healthcare space today.
The typical health IT professional might think I’m crazy, and that “gaming technology” has no place in healthcare. But many people also called me crazy eight years ago when Voalte first introduced smartphones for caregiver communication. Back then, everyone had a reason why smartphones would “never be used inside hospitals.” Today, we have Voalte smartphones in the hands of nearly 150,000 caregivers, connecting them not only to the rest of the care team but also to their patients via integration with nurse call and physiological monitors.
Just as smartphones have transformed the way caregivers collaborate inside and outside the hospital walls, VR and AR will help transform healthcare by creating phenomenal patient experiences, educational opportunities and new ways to deliver care. As an advisor at Techstars Healthcare Accelerator, in partnership with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I’ve seen virtual reality already starting to take hold in the industry.
One startup called AppliedVR has built a library of virtual-reality content for alleviating patients’ pain and anxiety before, during and after medical procedures. Running on Samsung’s Gear VR headset, the technology is being used in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics for patients undergoing procedures such as drawing blood and administering epidurals, as well as for pain management.
BioLucid, a digital health company right here in Sarasota, Florida, has created a 3D software platform that applies virtual reality to educational material, allowing patients and their doctors to fully explore the body’s organs and experience how chronic diseases work, without invasive procedures.
It’s really fascinating for me to witness another disruptive technology emerging in healthcare, and to play a part as a mentor for other entrepreneurs who are dedicated to improving the overall healthcare ecosystem. And let’s face it: Watching your friends play a virtual game while wearing a VR headset is even more fun than playing the game yourself.
Trey Lauderdale is Founder and President of Voalte.