Virtual Reality for medical and healthcare environments

The virtual reality and the glasses that support this technology will be a trend during this year and will continue to consolidate in the coming years.
Before starting, it is important to differentiate between the Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). The AR incorporates layers of digital information in the form of images, holograms or text to our peripheral vision that we have before us. This doesn’t happen with VR, which completely abstracts us from reality, leading us to other worlds or situations, this experience can be reinforced by adding sounds or physical platforms where we can move.
One of the most obvious uses is the field of video games. But what other applications can it have in the world of medicine?

Medical Opportunities

Analysing the market, technologies and professionals, we realize that the potential is huge for medicine and education of health professionals. Some of the medical implications of virtual reality 360 degrees would be:
For patient treatments
  • – Exposure Therapy (Treating Phobias): These phobias sometimes lead to extreme reactions, anxiety or panic attacks. The VR allows a therapist to control rate of exposure of a patient or a particular situation (going out on the street, flying in the plane, and so on) or an object (spider, snakes and so on).
  • – Pain Management: Doctors expect that the distraction therapy through virtual reality could help achieve a reduction of pain and anxiety in painful or uncomfortable treatments for the patient. We could carry the patient out from the treatment room towards to a relaxing ambience.
  • – Virtual Robotic Surgery: In the field of the remote tele-surgery where surgery is performed by a surgeon in a separate place from the patient. The surgery is performed by a robotic device – controlled remotely by a surgeon, who watch from their glasses what happens and gives instructions to the robot through adjusted gloves. Reducing the time of intervention and the risk of complications.
  • – Assessment of brain damage and rehabilitation: Through different tests we get the patient to interact in common places or places that require his/her interaction, evaluating damages with high accuracy or helping in the process of stroke rehabilitation.
  • – Opportunities for people with disabilities: Allowing them to explore environments and experiences that might not otherwise experience due to their limitations, or teach them new ways to perform day-to-day tasks.
  • – Meditation and relaxation: For people who suffer from stress and nervousness, they can start programs to defuse tension and begin relaxing when they feel an anxiety attack or a crisis episode coming on.
Doctors and Nurses Training
  • Allows doctors and health personnel training scenarios in which they can interact with a patient or crisis situations (UCI).
  • Training technicians in emergency and disaster situations without risking anyone’s life.
  • – Surgical training: Education for medical students and novice surgeons, generally involves use of corpses and a gradual support to the doctors with more experience before taking on tasks and having greater responsibilities in surgery. Virtual reality provides another means of practice, without any real risk to patients.
  • – Serves multiple disciplines: Traumatology, Dentistry, Urology and so on.


There are many glasses with augmented reality on the market, companies such as Google want to take VR everywhere in the world and promote a low cost glasses project ($15), with their CardBoard . We can easily build the, and with the assist of our mobile phones, we can download any App in their App Store (Google Play) and begin to enjoy the virtual experience. Google has sold more than 5 million units of this model. Also, we can get more robust glasses made of plastic (DSCVR) by paying a bit over €35.
However, for professionals and medical environments it is recommended glasses structures more robust that also fit perfectly to our head, offering a more realistic and high quality experience. In this range we have Samsung Gear VR that requires a high-end mobile phone like Note 4, but that incorporates sensors like accelerometer and gyroscope.
Or still, more immersive glasses that require a computer with a good processor and graphic card, here we can find Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

Content and cameras 360º

There are fundamentally two ways to create content for these glasses, on one side we can create our virtual world and operating room using 3D design programs. Using real basic designs or our imagination in order to create object to object with its texture, behaviour and location. For these types of environments, we use technology and software like Unity, 3 DS Max and Maya.
The other way is to record real scenarios in 360º, which will allow us to explore them with our glasses afterwards. Another tendency is the ability to access these places in real time, they would be similar to the well-known webcam, but now in 360 degrees we would feel like we are there, in that moment and in that place, as well as interacting with other individuals that are there. So, we could put a 360 degree camera in a surgical operation room and be able to view it as though we were in the same room.
Google has also presented a project to create this type of cameras, called Jump, a structure of sixteen modules to insert cameras such as Go Pro. Each camera records an area and afterwards with an editing software will merge all the images creating a 360 effect in high resolution. We can share our creation on YouTube and from this platform, CardBoard, send it to our mobile phones.
However, Google is not the only one to have launched these cameras, we have OZO from Nokia, a high-end multi-camera of about $60,000, and also, we have others that suit the budget: Bbubcam ($799) and 360fly ($399).

Interaction and new interfaces

It is very cool to look at and access visual information in a virtual world or on stage thousands of kilometres away from where we are. However, it is much better to interact with it and with the objects or people over there, one way to achieve this is by our voice, but we will find that when moving our hands, we do not see them. Due to this, different devices and technologies are being developed, so we can recognize our movements and “touch” those objects. Gloves are the most immersive pressure VR, as they not only recognise our movements they also allow us to feel them, some brands would be Gloveone €199 or CyberGlove.
Other options are using the glasses’ and mobiles’ cameras, which can perform a hand recognition and blend it in the visual experience. Moreover, we have other alternatives, such as MYO bracelet, that captures the movement of our arms, or the Leap motion sensor, that we can joint directly to our VR glasses and capture the movements of our hands and fingers.
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