5 life-changing uses of VR that are already happening

— Eloïse Guibourg 

As an avid reader, I am well acquainted with the “technology-turned-us-into-an-awful-society” dystopian novel. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy these books – and apparently so do millions of others if we look at the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Planet of the Apes. A technology-led dystopian future has even been featured in The Simpsons!

More recently, Netflix’s Black Mirror has been making waves. The show depicts a stark future where technology gets out of hand and negatively effects society. In the latest season, one episode explores the impact a Virtual Reality (VR) game has on real-life relationships and sexuality.

But while I agree that we must be considered when it comes to technology, VR has enabled significant advances in several industries. For example in healthcare, where it improves the quality of life for patients and supports their treatment.

For many, VR is a futuristic technology, whose real-life potential outside of games is only shown in blockbusters movies. But the reality is that VR is already here. Read on to discover five life-changing uses of VR that are already happening.

1. Helping you recover

Immersive Rehab was created after Dr Isabel Van De Keer went through a long physical rehab period following an accident at work. It was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, and part of the Bethnal Green Ventures Tech for Good Accelerator programme in 2016.

The technology increases the effectiveness of physical and neural rehabilitation, making rehab fun and engaging. The programme works “by engaging a person’s brain into thinking that they are actually moving objects around”. When patients enter the VR world, they perform rehab exercises by interacting with virtual objects, which convinces the brain they are capable of doing the same in real life.

The immersive rehab team is currently investigating the potential of the technology for people with MS and spinal cord injuries, as well as stroke survivors.

vr in healthcare

2. Helping you remember

In May this year, The University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts released a study investigating , ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to Huntington’s disease.

VR was found to help patients recall old memories by providing a stimulus. Side effects included the caregivers understanding more about their patient’s lives before the diagnosis, improved mood and motivation for patients, and the will of patients to make their own choices. 

3. Helping you forget

Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) was only recognised as a disorder in its own right in 1980. In the last 40 years, PTSD has gained more awareness. An estimated 24.4 million people in the US have PTSD at any given time. The most widely known cause of PTSD is the experience of a warzone, but any trauma can trigger PTSD, for example, in the UK, around 7% of children will experience PTSD by age 18. At country-level, about 20% of people who experience a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD.

Exposure Therapy is a kind of behavioural therapy that helps patients confront the types of situations or thoughts that provoke anxiety. While more studies must be conducted on the subject, VR Exposure Therapy (VRET) was shown to be effective in helping to treat PTSD, with all treatment gains being maintained six-months post-treatment.

4. Helping you fight

In Michigan, a cancer centre is studying how VR can help calm patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. Such studies have been conducted sporadically since 1999, and in September 2018, VRHealth and Oculus announced a partnership to explore the possible uses of VR in healthcare settings.

VRHealth CEO, Eran Orr, said: “Applying the effects of VR to the healthcare industry has the potential to improve many lives and aid doctors in providing personalised and comfortable experiences for their patients.”

Interestingly, the use of VR for cancer patients is now being investigated for other painful procedures, such as bone marrow biopsies or lumbar punctures.

5. Helping you combat pain

VR can also be used to manage pain. SnowWorld is a VR game that helps severe burn patients by immersing them in a wintery and snowy landscape, distracting them from the pain signals sent to their brain.

“Severe burns are one of the most painful injuries a person can endure,” said Dr. Richard Gamelli, chairman of the department of surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood. “Anything that we can do to lessen the pain and suffering of patients during treatment is a plus. This system is the next step in helping us to do that.”

The positive impact VR is having on the healthcare industry is already incredible exciting. And while I do believe that we must be mindful about how dependent we become on technology, I’m also inspired by the way in which VR is empowering and enabling progress and treatment. It has the potential to massively improve our quality of life.

From a PR perspective, VR is revolutionising the way we communicate. It can now allow us to demonstrate the reality of the patient experience or show how a drug acts inside the body. The rise of VR in communications is symptomatic of something bigger: the evolution of communications itself. 

We have already moved from a written word to a visual storytelling world. Now, VR offers us the opportunity to not only create the narrative but put people into the story. PR professionals must be willing to immerse themselves in, and guide their clients through, this new mode of communication – or risk being left behind.