For an acrophobic person, the thought of standing on top of a skyscraper—exposed to the elements, looking over the ledge to see a concrete abyss below—would be terrifying, not to mention seriously risky.
But what if, in an effort to overcome the fear of heights, you could ensure that rising to the top of the building was gradual, completely controlled and entirely risk-free?
Virtual and augmented reality technology now presents such a solution when it comes to exposure therapy. It’s just one example of a growing list of applications for the technology, which is expected to transform the health care industry in the coming years.
A recent report from Grand View Research Inc. projects that the global augmented reality and virtual reality in health care market will reach $5.1 billion by 2025—second only to the AR and VR gaming market. That’s compared to $144 million in 2018.
With projections like that, Peter Smith, senior vice president of digital solutions at GMR Marketing LLC, is a believer in its transformative impact on the industry.
“We really feel virtual reality and augmented reality have the power to revolutionize the health care industry,” Smith said. “It provides personalized experiences that can’t be done in the real world.”
From its New Berlin headquarters, the experiential marketing firm is creating the kind of VR and AR experiences that representatives say will soon become commonplace in health-related industries.
GMR’s digital and production teams film and produce all of the firm’s VR experiences in-house at the New Berlin facility. They are delivered using Samsung’s mobile virtual reality headset, Gear VR; the Microsoft HoloLens, a holographic computer built into a headset; and the HTC VIVE, a virtual reality headset.
GMR recently joined others leading the charge on innovation in health care—including Google, IBM Watson and Twitter—at the MedTech Expo as part of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France, to showcase its products.
While it may take a few years before the technology noticeably alters the health care experience for patients and practitioners, VR and AR are already popping up in pockets of the industry.
Take a recent GMR-produced campaign for Humana Inc. as an example.
Called “Bring the Parks to You,” it offered senior citizens an experience – using a Samsung smartphone and headgear – through which they were immersed in two iconic national parks with 360-degree views of waterfalls, forests and wildlife. Paired with messaging about the benefits of visiting parks, the campaign was designed to encourage healthy habits among seniors. It’s an example of the ways in which VR can be used to educate patients.
Other products can take patients through more immersive and interactive experiences via augmented reality. GMR has produced a “heart experience” that transports the user to a museum-like space with an anatomically accurate, beating heart on display in the center of the room. Wearing a headset, the user can step inside the 5-by-7-foot heart and walk through its chambers, taking in a different view from every angle. The interactive exhibit includes educational facts about the organ, demonstrations of irregular heartbeats and the option of applying virtual treatment to the heart.
More than just visually interesting, Smith said, this kind of program gives patients important insight into how their bodies function, demystifying medical processes that tend to be abstract for the average patient.
“It’s for educational purposes,” Smith said, “to understand what’s happening to my body when I’m under this condition. Why am I feeling the way I’m feeling? And, when I take medication, what’s that doing to my body and how is it making the symptoms go away or potentially curing what I’m experiencing?”
The technology is also expected to serve new purposes for health care practitioners. Thanks to VR imaging and haptic feedback, surgeons can try their hand at a procedure in the virtual world before performing an operation in the real world, where the stakes are much higher. Virtual robotic surgery, meanwhile, will allow surgeons to operate on a patient in a different location.
Other uses for VR and AR include enabling doctors to experience their patients’ symptoms more viscerally—glasses simulating the condition of visual field loss, for example. Or augmented reality glasses, paired with a wearable glove, that simulate the inflammation—and frustration—that comes with carpal tunnel syndrome.
“It’s about education, but it’s also about empathy as well,” Smith said. “So when a health care professional is treating someone, they can really understand what’s happening in their body and how it’s affecting their body in a way they would only know through reading journals.”
As for deployment of the technology, Smith predicts it will be commonplace in health care within two to three years. In the meantime, VR and AR continue to evolve at a rapid pace.
“Six to 12 months down the road, what we see today is going to be a lot faster, a lot lighter, a lot easier to use,” Smith said.