When learning that the first heart rate monitor was invented in 1977, it is surprising to look at how far medical technologies have advanced– and those advances are just the beginning. As technology in healthcare begins to expand beyond patient interaction and information, more diverse purposes and applications will increase media technologies utilization within hospitals and clinics.

Virtual-Reality (VR), more often associated with video games than with healthcare, has become one of the most fast-growing technologies in present day. By 2020, the global market for VR is projected to reach 3.8 billion dollars, primarily driven by recent advancements in healthcare information technology. While virtual-reality gains visibility and momentum as a diagnostic tool in healthcare, researchers and doctors explore its usage in the diagnosis and treatments of phobias, autism, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety, and possibly even severe pain cases.

Recently, Boston’s Children Hospital implemented the use of a new virtual reality tool that helps their staff provide patients and their families an immersive and personalized care experience. The new tool, HealthVoyager, was created in partnership between the hospital and Klick Health, a patient education technology company. The VR tool creates a 3D tour of gastrointestinal tests allowing patients and their families to view their results (as in, what their providers see during the procedure) and take a hands-on experience in understanding their medical conditions.

In addition to the diagnosis and informational aspects of the new healthcare IT advancements, it is thought that the immersive elements of VR also allow for a therapeutic effect for patients. In 1965, Ronald Melzak introduced his gate control theory of pain which asserted that positive distractions (puppies, music, comedy, etc.) could help to relieve anxiety, fear, and pain experienced in a healthcare crisis. To date, research surrounding this theory suggests VR can be useful in providing relief from pain regardless of its cause or origination. A recent study in Los Angeles found that adult patients reported a 24 percent drop in pain scores after watching calming content via VR. Initial studies in pediatric healthcare found that immersive games in VR also significantly reduced the pain felt.

The use of VR in hospitals, clinics, and further promises a new way to think about healthcare. As these new technologies become accepted and implemented, hospitals and healthcare professionals will continue to look for new ways that virtual reality can be utilized in the improvement of overall patient care and education.

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