29 Sep

When will the mass medical sector take VR seriously:  

Are we there yet? No, not yet. 

2016, heralded as the brink of the horizons of virtual technologies reaching the mass consumer sectors including the medical sector. If your, like most people, intrigued by the fast developing tech industry there’s no doubt you’ve been bombarded with viral technology news updates via social media, tv news, or Hollywood reaffirming that the virtual reality industry has been born and is here to stay, become your best friend and then grow and take over.  

Waiting patiently for the VR wave to come and revolutionise the medical world.   

No virtual reality conference, hype blog or article goes without talking about virtual reality influencing the medical industry in a serious way. As a industry that undoubtly affects every human on the planet its no wonder the general public are excited about the innovations even the specialists leading the medical world, doctors, professors and surgeons are they themselves watching and waiting for something to happen with great concentration. But therein lies the massive problem. 

The great saying goes “ Everybodies job is nobodies job” 

and this applies very well to the delayed mass launch of VR in the medical sector. The largest global sector itself in current times and for atleast the next 50 years is healthcare. Naturally the most active drivers bringing VR to healthcare are non healthcare professionals as one might expect they are generally entrepreneurs and innovation focused corporate enterprises looking to win big in the collosal opportune market.  

For the optimal application of virtual technologies to the medical world the medical sectors insiders need to lead the march forth into the unknown and yes it is unknown. 

Applying virtual technologies to the medical/surgical subsectors is not a simple face lift or a drag and drop into the VR folder on the desktop.   

Just like in medical research and clinical trials where progress is made by using the well establish scientific evidence based approach, statistical significance and then forming hypothesises and conclusions. This thought process is needed for VR application to the medical world because there are thousands of directions possible each dangerously easy to get excited about and literally invest billions into.  

The current situational paradigm for VR being introduced to medicine is via developmental partnerships where VR entrepreneurs and innovation focused corporate enterprises lead the partnership made with medical professionals and healthcare subject matter expertise to work together to develop useful VR applications. 

The design of this developmental pathway is deeply flawed in that the subject matter expert is not leading the development journey. Virtual reality expert developers know that the factors and elements that determine high quality virtual reality are very complex and dynamic. 

Factors that determine high quality VR are very complex and dynamic 

To discover the optimal design and application for VR to health care is to equip the subject matter expert with the knowledge and mastery of what has been learned by the VR industry over the last 3 decades since VR became a possibility. Still a young art, trade and industry for virtual reality there are undoubtly many more mistakes that will be made to learn from but the task on our hands now is to limit these mistakes by optimising the quality of the thought leadership of those in position to direct the roadmap of VR integrating into healthcare.  

What does published academic research show about VR for the medical sector: 

Surprisingly little and where there are efforts to establish some sort of evaluative consensus about VR being used for healthcare there are many weaknesses in the fundamentals of the studies. For examples a reoccurring problem is that the definition of virtual reality seems to be a blurred line and the control on the factors that determine the quality of the virtual reality are not controlled I.e. structured reviews comparing studies that compare VR healthcare applications to their tradition counter parts, in this sort of study it is imperative to ensure accurate representation of VR are used but you will find  desktop PC based medical CGI simulators being compared to real life medical dummy simulations being compare to haptic feedback clinical skills/surgical simulators being compared to headset based simulators. This is as ludicrous as trying to compare electric cars to fossil fuel cars by studying the difference between electric cars made in the 1980s and modern TESLA electric cars and modern fossil fuels cars ect Mercedes.

Comparing electric cars made in 1980s to TESLA cars and the latest Mercedes Benz 

These technical inaccuracies stem from a disconnection between: 

 1.  the cutting edge VR innovation expertise relating to the latest technology itself and how best to apply the technology. 


 2. The medical sector innovators and academic looking to bridge the gap between VR and the healthcare world.  

How do we fix this disconnection: 

The innovators in the medical sector looking to apply VR need to appreciate the complexities of virtual reality and take the time, energy and resources to get to grips with what factors and details need to be considered when designing VR applications in health care. The best way to do this is for meaningful and strong relationships to be made with the real VR development experts  not just those looking for a fast opportunity to apply VR to health care and attract venture capital in this VR bubble we find currently growing.  

 By putting a priority focus on the scalability and acceptability of any VR application for healthcare. By letting VR technical specialists lead the way as is being done, marvellous healthcare VR application are developed but;  

i) lack of design provision for the psychology of the healthcare sector target market I.e. the patients, doctors, nurses and anyone who will interact with the VR applications. Standard patients psychology is still not fully understood despite the decades of research by the medical industry, the VR industry cannot just waltz in and believe they know what the industry want and how it should look, feel and perform. 

ii) lack of design provision for scalability will limit the scaling of these innovations to find examples of this it doesn’t take long on google. 

iii) The price point logistical and practical elements needed to allow the VR applications to be used by the target customer/client.

  • VR Development teams need to ask what are the priorities for healthcare systems, what budgets and objectives do they have. It’s well understood in healthcare that technological innovations in healthcare have a incredibly slow rate of reaching far and wide and even slower to those communities that need the innovations the most. As our rate of development of technological advances as a human race, speeds up by geometric proportions, in healthcare we must keep a key focus on designing our innovations so they can be scaled to benefit not only the top 1% economically prosperous communities. This train of though benefits the commercial perspective and the moral perspective.   

 An additional limiting factor of scalability is that the key ingredients that will cause exponential viral growth, product "stickiness" and maximum word of mouth factor will only be known by the industry subject matter expert, those that have been through the system both from the inside and from the outside plus understand the social element. The provision for these factors need to present from the beginning.  

Subsectors of healthcare with VR application scope: 

  • Patient-Doctor adherence to medication and lifestyle advice 
  • Medical and Surgical theory education 
  • Remote surgical procedures
  • Virtual Doctor patient consultations- Telemedicine 
  • Visualisation of bespoke per patient anatomical profiles to assist procedures 
  • Clinical setting work flow and communications 
  • Patient disease education 
  • Team Task Virtual exercises 
  • Clinical situational judgement education, assessments and simulations 
  • Medical and surgical Clinical Skills simulation training 


Virtual technologies for the healthcare industry should acheive following: 

  • Increase patient safety 
  • Save more lives 
  • Increase the preparedness and competency of health care professionals 
  • Save health systems financial resources 
  • Cost benefit analysis should show significant beneficial outcomes 
  • Empower patients in decision making 
  • Increase the access to medical informational resources 
  • Increase efficiencies in health systems 
  • Increase the efficiency of reaching medical educational learning outcomes  
Where do we begin: thought leadership and design thinking is a good enough start!  

Written & Published by Dr Raphael Olaiya MBCHB 

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