The Complete Guide to VR in Healthcare
From advanced training to patient care, virtual reality is changing how medical professionals think about healthcare.
Healthcare | Use Case
8 min read
The phrase “virtual reality” might bring to mind video games and science fiction, but VR has far more practical and impactful applications than many people realize. This is especially true in the healthcare sector, where VR is reshaping processes for both practitioners and patients. Over the last three decades, virtual reality technology has found its way into almost every facet of the healthcare process, from training tomorrow’s doctors and nurses to delivering a higher standard of patient care.
While some healthcare administrators may still have doubts about the use of VR in healthcare, its numerous proven benefits far outweigh the initial investment — particularly with so many accessible resources on the market. Read on to discover how VR in healthcare is reshaping the medical world, its numerous benefits, and the companies that are leading the charge in creating VR healthcare applications.
How VR in Healthcare Became an Industry Standard
Though the earliest virtual reality headsets were created in the 1960s, the phrase “virtual reality” wasn’t coined until the mid-80s  . By the 1990s, medical professionals had begun to explore the possibilities of healthcare VR applications, with mental healthcare being a primary focus. Dr. Barbara Rothbaum, at that time the Executive Director of Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, used early VR headsets to treat psychological disorders like phobias in 1993, and others soon followed suit. By the end of the 90s, VR had found its place in the hospital setting treating disorders like PTSD and assisting hospital staff with medical imaging.
However, VR in healthcare was still considered a niche form of treatment until the new millennium brought about technological advancements at a breakneck pace. From 2012 to 2017, the VR healthcare market in the United States grew from $525 million to $976M  , nearly doubling in size. These days, next-generation headsets like the VIVE XR Elite offer Ultra HD resolution, depth-sensing precision, and even highly detailed passthrough that seamlessly blends the physical and digital worlds — all in a lightweight, untethered design, a far cry from the bulky, impractical headsets of yore.
As costs have fallen and technology has become more user-friendly, doctors, scientists, and engineers are continuing to explore the uses of VR in healthcare. One example is the USC Institute for Creative Technologies’ Medical Virtual Reality program  , which provides in-depth training for a number of medical treatments. But VR in healthcare goes beyond just teaching practical skills; platforms like Acadius’ Virtual Simulation Lab  help medical professionals develop soft skills like empathetic communication — aka “bedside manner” — which contributes to improving patient outcomes.
To learn more about the history of VR in healthcare and the state of VR healthcare in 2023, read The 7 Most Impactful Uses of VR in Hospitals and How the Use of VR in Medical Training is Improving Patient Outcomes in 2023 .
Meaningful Uses of VR in Healthcare
Stakeholders. Doctors. Nurses. Patients. Administrators. Security staff. Healthcare VR applications benefit just about everyone in a hospital setting as more and more impactful uses are developed — all while lowering costs and delivering top-tier care. Virtual reality is even being used in patients’ homes to treat chronic pain and neurological conditions.
For an even deeper dive into VR’s evolving role in the industry, check out our webinar: How VR is Reshaping Healthcare .
One of the most prominent applications of VR in healthcare is medical training. As the global population ages and a shortage of healthcare workers becomes an increasing concern, virtual reality gives hospital administrators a cost-effective way to train scores of incoming doctors and nurses with highly detailed simulations. In fact, data suggests that the demand for healthcare VR training solutions will grow by nearly 37% in the next five years  .
When looking at the outcomes of VR training simulations, it’s not hard to see why more and more hospital administrators are implementing this technology. One analysis  found that 74% of studies on VR training concluded that trainees reported improved learning ability, while 87% saw greater accuracy in actual medical practice. These simulators can also reduce overall training time; ORamaVR reduced training time by 29% while also decreasing operating room and cadaver station costs  .
Here are some additional benefits of VR medical training simulators:
- Less equipment needed: Before VR was a viable option, medical simulations often required costly, time-consuming facility renovations in order to accommodate specialized training equipment. Virtual reality allows for these simulations to be deployed anywhere with only a headset, some small accessories, and a computer.
- Repetition made easy: Forget about having to physically reset a simulator every time a new trainee begins; that takes time and slows down the process. With VR, repeatable scenarios can begin with the push of a button, reducing downtime between sessions and encouraging students to keep trying without fear of failure.
- Easier on the budget: Physical simulations don’t just have a high upfront cost; they also require continuing expenses to maintain equipment. VR simulations cost only a fraction of their physical counterparts upfront, after which hospital administrators should have access to everything they need to implement comprehensive training programs.
To learn more about use cases and benefits of VR medical simulation, read our blog: How VR Medical Simulation Improves the Skills of Medical Pros .
As our understanding of mental healthcare has evolved, so too has virtual reality in its applications for mental health professionals and patients. Back in the 90s, early iterations of virtual technology hardware were used to conduct exposure therapy in patients with severe phobias, and its uses have only blossomed from there. In the modern era, mental health professionals use VR to treat depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction recovery, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more.
This is especially important now, as more than 41 million Americans receive mental healthcare  amid a looming professional shortage  . There simply aren’t enough licensed psychiatrists and psychologists to go around, and implementing VR solutions can help them treat more patients with empathy. For example, BeHavR  takes a science-first approach to behavioral therapy, creating “immersive and engaging XR [extended reality] therapeutics for mental and behavioral health.” As BeHaVR puts it, “As a medium, virtual reality is uniquely equipped to support and heal your brain and body as one connected system.”
So why is virtual reality so effective when it comes to improving mental health? There are a few key ways the technology helps. The first is by creating a “happy place,” a safe space patients can visit with the help of VR technology. By simulating a calming environment, VR hardware helps patients reach a relaxed state of mind much more easily than the patient would by simply trying to imagine that scenario. Simulated settings also allow those with phobias and PTSD to face their anxieties in a safe way — it’s usually not realistic to create scenarios like a warzone or other high-stress environments. Additionally, VR therapy is becoming widely used in a number of specialized scenarios, including senior care  . And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; expect virtual reality and extended reality technology to play a growing role in the mental health realm going forward.
To learn more about the various uses of VR in mental healthcare and their benefits, read How VR is Helping Mental Health Professionals Deliver a Higher Standard of Care .
As mentioned above, virtual reality healthcare treatments aren’t just a boon for time-strapped medical professionals and hospital administrators on tight budgets. The technology also contributes to optimal patient outcomes in a number of ways:
- Accessibility: The benefits of VR healthcare extend beyond the operating room and therapist’s office. With a wide range of remote applications, virtual reality allows for more patients to be seen, many of whom don’t have to leave the comforts of their own homes. This is particularly useful in cases of ongoing rehabilitation, like that needed by stroke survivors  .
- Progression tracking: The movement-tracking capabilities and data collection offered by high-end VR headsets make it significantly easier to monitor a patient’s progress. In fact, XRHealth  , a leader in the VR healthcare field, envisions a future in which virtual reality programs can provide comprehensive care for patients working with multiple providers, all of whom have access to progression data.
- Customizable treatment: A natural result of an end-to-end VR healthcare platform is medical teams being able to better design solutions that suit each individual patient. By using the data that’s collected to track the patient’s progress, doctors can easily see what’s working and what’s not and adjust accordingly.
- Gamified experiences: Seeing a doctor is typically not anyone’s idea of a good time, but virtual reality can inject some fun into the experience. Gamified VR treatment turns the recovery process from a chore into a pastime, providing encouragement to patients and, in some cases, fostering social connections.
To discover how VR benefits everyone in a healthcare setting, from doctors to patients to administrators and security staff, read our blog post: The 14 Biggest Benefits of VR in Healthcare .
Top Companies for VR in Healthcare
As mentioned earlier in this article, healthcare-focused companies like ORamaVR and XRHealth are paving the way for more innovative uses of VR in a medical setting. They’re far from the only ones, though; hundreds of organizations are finding real-world applications for VR healthcare every day. Here are just a few of the most impactful:
Founded in 2017, this Bristol, England-based company creates interactive video experiences that help healthcare providers develop core job skills. According to independent research  , Virti’s simulations are responsible for a 230% boost in knowledge acquisition, which explains why the company lists the National Health Service among its most noteworthy partners.
With clients like AT&T, American Senior Communities, and the National Association of State Veterans Homes, MyndVR is one of the foremost developers of therapeutic VR solutions. The company’s focus on remote senior care allows aging adults to remain at home, either independently or with family, while providing the resources to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and promote healthy cognition.
It’s not just doctors and patients who benefit from VR healthcare, and SimX  knows that well. The Geneva, Switzerland-based company boasts an impressive library of training solutions for nurses, paramedics, EMTs, and other medical professionals — that includes patient models, environments, tools, and procedures. SimX also encourages collaboration by allowing multiple users to work simultaneously.
WAVR (or Wide Awake VR  ) aims to create a “better, safer, less costly, more sustainable patient experience” by providing alternatives to sedatives for minor medical procedures. Instead, providers can use VR to mitigate anxiety and safely immerse patients in immersive media content. As a result, patients can eat normally before a low-impact procedure and drive themselves home afterward, making preparation and recovery much easier.
See the full list of the most important brands in VR healthcare: 10 Virtual Reality Healthcare Companies Driving Meaningful Innovation for Medical Practitioners .
VR Healthcare With HTC VIVE
As a trailblazer in the virtual reality space, HTC VIVE has partnered with a number of innovative healthcare companies to provide hardware and solutions that benefit medical staff and patients alike. Our industry-leading headsets like the VIVE XR Elite offer world-class video and audio quality and innovative user experiences, all while delivering next-level comfort and portability. To learn more about how HTC VIVE technology serves all levels of the healthcare process, get in touch today .
 The Franklin Institute, https://www.fi.edu/en/virtual-reality/history-of-virtual-reality
 USC Institute for Creative Technologies, https://ict.usc.edu/research/labs-groups/medical-virtual-reality/
 Globe Newswire, https://www.globenewswire.com/en/news-release/2022/08/08/2494317/0/en/Global-Research-Study-on-Virtual-Reality-in-Healthcare-Market-Size-Will-Reach-2793-69-Million-at-36-50-CAGR-by-2028-Comprehensive-Research-Report-by-Facts-Factors.html
 Healthcare IT News, https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/virtual-reality-offers-real-pain-relief.html