Virtual reality promises real benefit for healthcare sector

Virtual reality promises real benefit for healthcare sector

By 2010, the US market for virtual reality in the healthcare sector is predicted to reach $290m

Virtual reality (VR) applications have experienced double-digit growth both worldwide and in the US since the turn of the century, but by 2010, the US market for virtual reality in surgery, medical education, therapy and other areas will grow to $290m.

The figures come from a report, Virtual Reality Market in the US Healthcare Sector: Markets for Remote Surgery, 3D Modeling, Pain Distraction and Other Applications, from life science research firm Kalorama Information.

Although they have long been the driving force in the entertainment, gaming and engineering industries, virtual reality applications have revolutionised the global healthcare industry, Kalorama said. More accurate and sophisticated than conventional two-dimensional scans, VR applications provide opportunities to perform medical tasks in a risk-free environment and make training accessible to large numbers of students.

Additionally, VR simulators allow medical professionals to remain up-to-date on the latest technical procedures required in their profession.

Current VR applications assist in numerous modalities from pre-operative planning and robot-assisted surgery to medical curricula to teach anatomy of body parts and the visualisation of medical data that can be integrated and simulated into 3D models to gather insights into the cause and effects of injuries. VR is even finding uses in therapeutics for pain and depression to replace or reduce pharmaceutical usage in these cases.

"While still at a very nascent stage of commercialisation, VR technologies are being widely used by the Department of Defense, medical schools and hospitals, and manufacturers of medical equipment on a variety of levels with significant benefit," said Steven Heffner, executive publisher of Kalorama Information.

"The establishment of industry standards should lead to rapid commercialisation of products, and ongoing technological advancements will only further the market, particularly in the surgery segment."