New report highlights tremendous growth of virtual reality in healthcare market

A medical student "operates" on a virtual patient. A surgeon sees an "augmented" vision of a patient with holograms and consults from other surgeons. A computer draws specific section of bone for surgical planning. Healthcare market research firm Kalorama Information estimates that the virtual reality in healthcare market in the United States grew from $525 million in 2012 to an estimated $976 million in 2017. The US virtual reality and augmented reality in healthcare market is expected to grow at roughly that level, according to Kalorama Information's report, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) Market in Healthcare.  

"The term 'virtual reality' is used in different contexts," says Kalorama's analyst Emil Salazar, the author of the firm's report. "Broadly, virtual reality is the means or capability to visualize and manipulate, or otherwise interact with, digital data representative of a real-world entity or environment. These digital data representatives are called virtual environments or VEs. VEs in healthcare would be an operating room, surgical site, patient anatomy, or therapeutic simulation."

The predominant markets for VR in healthcare and AR in healthcare are in surgery, medical education, professional training in healthcare, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and behavioral therapy. The report identifies scores of applications for virtual reality in healthcare, which include the following:

  • Surgery: Virtual reality technology has been particularly useful in robot-assisted orthopedic surgery. For instance, the Stryker Mako system highlights bone sections during surgical planning that are to be removed or shaved away for implant placement. The pre-operative 3D model is registered to the patient structure and becomes an interactive template during the procedure. The Mako burring instrument is directly held in the surgeon's hand, but provides resistance against surgeon movements to keep the burr within the predefined removal area highlighted in the 3D model. Burring instrument operation on the surgical site also updates the virtual model with replicated bone material removal. The interactive virtual model improves the precision of orthopedic implant placement and mitigates excessive bone removal
  • Pain Management: Numerous studies have demonstrated that patient distraction can be effective for pain relief and pain management. The immersive qualities of VR can significantly diminish patients' active attention to painful procedures such as wound cleaning and needle insertion. The analgesic effect of VR may vary in relation to its sensory complexity and interactive capabilities. Additional sensory dimensions in the virtual environment may include olfactory inputs and haptic feedback. Interaction with the virtual environment also diverts patient attention from pain; many trials of pain management using VR involved a game requiring eye or motor movement to complete virtual task.
  • Medical Education, particularly surgical education: Numerous companies offer VR, often headset-based, and AR products that address the preoperative spectrum from surgical planning through rehearsal, independent of a particular platform such as surgical navigation system or RAS. Image fusion of multiple medical imaging modalities provides surgeons and consulting physicians with 3D patient-specific anatomy that can be accessed and navigated in AR (typically computer screens) or VR (major market headsets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or smartphone-based sets).

Kalorama Information's report, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) Market in Healthcare (U.S. Markets for Surgery; Medical Education and Training; Pain Management, Rehabilitation and Therapy) has specific market sizes and forecasts for these segments, and talks about companies in the market, as well as other trends.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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