Today’s adoption of AR/VR technologies are helping to revolutionize business processes, save resources, and in general build more efficient operations across a broad variety of industries. Healthcare in particular has benefited from its successful adoption of Virtual Reality technologies.
VR has become a vital tool for education and training of both students and current physicians, as well as assisting in treatment of chronic conditions, precise diagnostics, and many other important facets of healthcare.
In this article, we will examine how VR is used in healthcare, what types of VR apps are possible and how they are built, and eventually how to build your own VR healthcare solution to train caregivers and save patients’ lives.
Virtual Reality Development in Healthcare: Facts and Figures
Healthcare is one of the main industries that will continue to adopt VR widely.
According to a report by Goldman Sachs, the healthcare VR market will reach $5.1 billion by 2025, with North America and Europe expected to be the top regions to adopt VR in the healthcare industry.
Healthcare providers and patients agree that VR is a must for the healthcare industry: 82% of healthcare professionals say VR is an efficient tool for education, and 62% of patients are ready to try VR as an alternative to routine care.
Now let’s see how exactly the healthcare industry adopts VR.
VR Adoption in Healthcare
Although VR is still commonly thought of as an entertainment technology, it has become widely accepted in the healthcare industry.
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Healthcare VR education
VR solutions have been used for some time in healthcare education. Students in all medical fields take advantage of VR technology, using 360-degree video and immersive 3D content to learn new information.
With VR solutions for healthcare, developers create complete learning programs for students and practicing physicians. Using such solutions, students learn new skills and obtain knowledge without risking a patient’s health.
For example, Random42 offers a virtual ride into a human body — floating between blood cells, examining how the neural system works, and so on.
The field of healthcare diagnostics also benefits greatly from Virtual Reality. For example, it is successfully used in neuroscience.
NeuroDotVR is a small, portable device that measures brain activity in response to visual stimulation coming to the patient through a healthcare VR device.
With just a smartphone, a VR headset, and a NeuroDot device, a therapist can measure neuroelectric data to help diagnose glaucoma, amblyopia, and the eye’s ability to adapt to darkness.
Mental illness treatment in VR
Exposure therapy is one of the most efficient methods for treating certain mental disorders. VR for mental health can enhance exposure therapy and provide therapists with a flexible and low-risk tool.
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With VR, patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can receive exposure to the traumatic event virtually. The therapists control what patients experience in the Virtual Reality environment and can alter or stop the process at any time if the patient is uncomfortable.
There is even a term for this: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, or VRET.
In addition, VR is a useful tool in treating stress and traumas, phobias, eating disorders, and more. See Psious for reference.
VR for pain management
Patients with chronic pain may suffer their whole lives. For a long time, physicians have treated various types of pain by using distraction methods. Now there is Virtual Reality in medicine to revolutionize pain management.
VR apps in healthcare provide a new distraction method — interactive games. The patient is distracted from their pain in a virtual safe space with lots of interactive features. VR is also a solution for those who cannot use drugs for pain management.
BehaVR is one of the companies that focuses on pain management via VR experiences. Their application Balance has proved its effectiveness against chronic pain.
Fitness and therapy
Sometimes fitness programs are a choice; sometimes they’re a necessity. Either way, healthcare VR changes how patients approach getting physical exercise. VR can make getting daily exercise a game rather than an exhausting and dull task.
The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise studies the effect of Virtual Reality–assisted exercise on the human body. One of the examined healthcare VR apps was ThunderGod; in this simulator, the patient has to regularly extend arms, forcefully hit, catch, and throw objects at virtual opponents.
The game was tested by measuring the metabolic rate of oxygen consumption. Energy expended was 3.41 to 4.22 calories per minute for a patient weighing 60 kg.
VR for surgery
Virtual Reality is not new in the surgical field; it has been used successfully for some time.
For example, Osso VR is a Virtual Reality surgical training and assessment platform. It helps future surgeons learn and train on virtual patients, increasing their confidence in dealing with real patients and shortening the learning curve.
The solution also helps educate surgeons in places that have fewer resources, contributing to solving the global issue of a shortage of surgeons.
Despite what is already a fairly diverse use of Virtual Reality in healthcare, the technology still has a lot more to offer to medicine in the near future. What’s coming next? Let’s explore some trends.
Trends in VR Technology in Healthcare
As mentioned earlier, the healthcare VR market is expected to reach $5.1 billion by 2025. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Here are some of the most promising VR healthcare trends:
- VR for chronic pain management is becoming a new standard for therapists, replacing traditional pain distraction methods.
- Virtual care and hybrid methods of patient care will likely become widely adopted. Jeffrey Becker, a healthcare analyst from Forrester, even suggests that healthcare facilities routinely keep a set of VR headsets at hand for various applications.
- As a powerful visual simulation tool, VR shows promising results for slowing memory loss, delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, and other mental health issues.
- More and more surgeons are trained using VR every year. A study shows that surgeons who learned with VR completed an orthopedic procedure 20% faster than those who were trained traditionally.
All aforementioned facts and statistics show that VR technology will become even more widely used in the healthcare industry. And though VR apps and their implementation seem very diverse, they have some common operating principles.
So, let’s find out how VR software works.
VR Software Architecture
VR apps in healthcare are built differently depending on the type of application, integrated third-party components, servers and clouds, and so on.
But all VR solutions for healthcare will generally include this architecture:
- Client application. This is what the user sees and interacts with. This part visualizes a VR experience.
- Database. This app component stores all data that the app requires: user profiles, content, scenarios, and so on. Could be located either on a physical server or in the cloud.
- Administration panel. This component allows developers and software administrators to control the whole application, both the client part and the database.
Here is a chart, for curious readers:
To develop a VR healthcare app, technical specialists usually follow the chart above, but first it’s important to determine the type to be used. Let’s take a look.
Types of VR Apps in Healthcare
There are three types of VR apps in healthcare:
- Fully immersive
Non-immersive VR apps have limited capacity — they do not replace everything the user sees; images are just displayed on a screen, and the user sees its borders. For example, so-called serious games are widely used in healthcare for training and educational purposes. They have proved their efficiency in enhancing surgeons’ motor skills, attention, and eye-hand coordination.
Semi-immersive VR apps in healthcare replace what the user sees only partly. The user still can distinguish the real world from the simulation easily. This category of VR apps in healthcare is successfully used to improve rehabilitation in patients with chronic pain and injuries.
Fully immersive VR apps in healthcare completely replace the real world for the user. For example, the Oxford Medical Simulation for nurses allows for training nursing skills in a completely virtual environment, with no real-world objects involved.
After determining the type of VR application, there is one more step to take — choosing which technologies to use for VR app development. Let’s talk about that next.
Technologies for VR App Development
To develop a VR app, several things need to be defined:
- VR engine;
- Tools for 3D and simulation modeling;
- Development frameworks/SDK;
- Front-end and back-end languages.
In the table below are the most commonly used options for each point.
Unreal Engine, Unity, CRYENGINE
Tools for 3D and simulation modeling
Autodesk Maya, Blender, Autodesk 3D, Autodesk Fusion 360
Oculus SDK, GearVR SDK, iOS/Android SDK, WebVR, React VR, Google VR
Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard / Daydream, PlayStation VR, treadmills, haptic gloves
Java, PHP, .Net, Python, Node.js
The chosen technologies greatly affect the complexity of development, the required skills of developers, and the overall cost of an application. So, how much will it cost to develop a VR app for healthcare? Keep reading.
How Much Does It Cost to Develop a Healthcare VR App?
Several important factors affect the cost of VR app development:
- Team composition. The VR development team, in addition to developers and 3D modelers, may include a project manager, business analyst, QA engineers, etc. The more specialists with various skills and expertise required, the higher the cost of the development will be.
- Number of features. As in the previous point, the more features, the higher the cost. In addition, the development of some features can take more time, which also affects the development cost, as very often developers work at an hourly rate.
- Hourly rates. These depend on the skills and expertise of the required specialists as well as their location.
- The complexity of app architecture. The type of app, number of required components, and third-party integrations will affect the development time and overall cost.
- Amount of content. In the case of VR app development, creating 3D content takes a long time and often requires a whole group of developers working simultaneously.
For a rough estimate, we will take an average hourly developer rate of $35. Developing a VR application with one well thought-out immersive experience and professional healthcare content will cost around $30,000.
Once you’ve defined key features and technologies of your solution and estimated its cost, you are ready to develop a VR healthcare app. Below we’ll describe the process you may go through if you choose to outsource development.
VR in Healthcare: Development by HQSoftware
At HQSoftware, before we begin to actually develop a VR healthcare app we spend time consulting with the client about their needs.
Consulting on VR solutions in healthcare
Consultations to develop a VR healthcare app usually consist of the following steps:
- We finalize the concept for your future VR solutions in healthcare.
- We build a roadmap of the development process.
- We decide on a suitable technology stack.
- We build a plan for software and hardware integration.
Once these steps are complete, we are ready to develop a VR healthcare app.
Development of your VR solution
The VR development team will complete each of these steps:
- Perform business analysis, industry research, market research.
- Build software architecture and consider all pitfalls.
- Create 3D models and all required visual content.
- Build a well thought-out UX/UI design.
- Develop the VR solution itself.
- Perform testing, find and eliminate bugs.
- Integrate software and hardware components.
- Perform maintenance, enhance and update the solution.
When these steps are complete, you can enjoy all the benefits of VR technology for your business.
So, if you are interested in developing your own healthcare VR solution, feel free to contact us and start the development in no time.
Head of Production
Oversees all production processes and manages the Quality Assurance department. Develops the company’s IoT, AR, VR, AI, and ML expertise.
Frequently Asked Questions
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