Virtual Reality
in Health Care

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality, also known as VR, was invented in the 1980s. Early VR was accomplished through a virtual reality headset and gloves. Since then, VR has become increasingly popular in video games and healthcare. Virtual reality today employs the use of computer-generated visual and audio stimulation. Most VR is done using a headset and corresponding controls.

How virtual reality is used in health care

Conferences and meetings

Virtual reality is used to conduct meetings without participants being physically present. VR meetings also allow for fewer distractions and a more streamlined experience.

Patient education

Virtual reality in healthcare offers the opportunity to teach a patient in a controlled setting. VR also allows a broader range of patient-doctor interactions, as neither party is limited to the physical realm.

Augmented reality medical records

Augmented reality differs slightly from virtual reality. VR implies that the entire setting is computer-generated while augmented reality builds on top of the real world. For example, augmented reality allows a provider to access medical files without losing sight of their immediate surroundings.

Mental health care

Virtual reality in healthcare is used to treat several mental illnesses. For example, a patient that has issues with physical proximity or touch due to mental illness can receive counseling in a virtual setting.

Gaining access to a patient’s perspective

Communication barriers are detrimental to effective healthcare. To properly diagnose a patient, a provider must clearly understand the patient’s symptoms and lifestyle. Virtual reality offers more tools to explain a patient’s ailment.

Speeding up physical therapy

The primary benefits of virtual reality in physical therapy are psychological. Virtual reality offers the patient a setting void of distractions while also providing one-on-one interaction with their trainer. For example, some patients may be afraid to fail in front of others, but VR significantly reduces that concern. 1

Pain management

VR’s effects on pain management related to how pain is perceived. Real-world stimuli like colors and audio can make pain seem worse than it is. In virtual reality, the setting is calm. VR also has a certain level of adventure associated with it. Such settings contribute to lower pain levels in patients. 2

Assessing and Treating Substance Use Disorders with VR

Virtual exposure therapy

Exposure therapy introduces addictive substances or traumatic events in a controlled setting, al-lowing the patient to deny addiction or safely interact with their emotional triggers. For example, a patient with alcoholism can simulate pouring a drink without the risk of consumption.

Virtual cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a long-term therapy that rewires a person’s brain to change their mood and outlook. Virtual CBT allows sessions to occur in a controlled environment without physical restrictions.

Fighting cravings

Virtual reality can also be used to combat harmful substance cravings. VR moves the patient’s mind away from their cravings by putting them in an environment where their substance doesn’t exist, thereby reducing dependency on it.

Distracting from withdrawal symptoms

Virtual reality in healthcare is designed to benefit the patient, which includes offering positive distractions. These distractions prevent a patient from being consumed by the discomfort of withdrawal. Such distractions include a calming setting, games, or just one-on-one interaction.

Reducing stress

Because VR reduces real-world distractions, it can also reduce stress. Feelings of being over-whelmed may dissipate when a patient finds themselves in a tranquil VR setting. VR games also allow a person to complete simple tasks, activating the reward center in the brain. 3

Effectiveness of Virtual Reality in Health Care and Addiction Treatment

Virtual reality in treating opioid addiction

Opioids are often prescribed after surgeries or injuries. These prescriptions contribute heavily to the opioid epidemic. However, virtual reality in healthcare offers pain relief without the risk of addiction. In time, VR may be easier to prescribe in place of opioids. VR also speeds up physical therapy and lowers the number of opioids needed to manage pain. As such, the risk of addiction is drastically lowered.

Virtual reality in treating other types of addiction

  • Nicotine Research – Studies show that virtual reality is more effective at treating nicotine addiction than nicotine patches. After six months, patients that underwent virtual reality treatment reported fewer cravings and relapses than their counterparts.4
  • Alcohol Research – It’s been proven that VR treatment helps reduce the symptoms of alcoholism. VR stimulates the reward centers in the brain, rewiring it to combat alcoholism.5
  • Cocaine Research – Virtual reality in healthcare can reduce cocaine cravings and change long-term views of the drug. Studies show that VR helps change the behavioral and physical perception of cocaine.
  • Cannabis Research – VR treatment helps with cannabis addiction. The stimulation caused by VR reduces cravings and rewires the brain’s reward center. Furthermore, because cannabis is sometimes prescribed for pain, VR may outmode it in the future.

Finding Virtual Reality Treatment

Proper virtual reality treatment requires professional training, costly electronics, and dedicated time. Choose a provider that understands VR therapy to boost the odds of successful recovery.

Eliminate the Need for Expensive Training and Equipment

Virtual reality costs thousands of dollars to purchase or replace, and it involves complex software updates and processes. By choosing a trained professional who understands the VR technicalities, you eliminate the need for costly investments.

Reduce the Risk of VR Malpractice

Although treatment is virtual, the risk of VR malpractice still exists. VR can cause forms of motion sickness and confusion for some patients. There’s also the chance of injury due to a patient not being aware of their real-life surroundings. Working with a trained professional is vital to reducing the chance of malpractice. 6

Virtual reality in health care and addiction treatment is ever-changing. As it advances, so do the available applications for VR medical treatment.



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