When most people conjure up an image of virtual reality and augmented reality – the association is very often Pokemon Go or some other type of video game or entertainment platform. The first thought that comes to mind is not usually pain management, rehabilitation, or cognitive testing – in fact, ten years ago no one would have thought that could be possible with a virtual reality headset.

However, the sophisticated technology embedded in a virtual reality headset can be transformed into a medical device given the right software behind it. In fact, Frost & Sullivan predicted that in the next four years 45% of operating rooms will be using artificial intelligence and virtual reality. We are seeing virtual reality making this entrance now in various settings like dentist offices to relieve patients of anxiety and pain from routine to complicated procedures, to being used for chemotherapy patients, childbirth, and throughout the rehabilitation process. The reason virtual reality is so effective for the patient is that it creates a 360-degree world that can distract and redirect the patients focus so that they are no longer thinking about the pain/anxiety but rather guided in a virtual world. In effect, VR “tricks” the patient’s mind to believe they are literally in another surrounding.  

However, the patient experience is not in a vacuum – in fact one of the benefits of virtual reality incorporated with artificial intelligence is that it provides comprehensive data on the patient. For instance, if a patient is using VR during the rehabilitation process, data will be produced in real-time highlighting how often the patient is doing exercises, how intense the exercise was, and how the patient is benefitting the most from the rehabilitation process. The doctor can see all of the data on their patients right at their office so they can prescribe additional therapy or make any other additional adjustments to the VR environment, depending on the results and data available.

Additionally, this data is also available to caregivers whether it is someone caring for an elderly parent, a nurse monitoring their patients progress, or a parent monitoring their child – all the data is visible to the patient, caregiver, and doctor - making the assessment of progress easier. This data can enable the physician to pinpoint exactly what part of the regime needs to be modified. This full circle of data provides the best possible results for the patient, creating a loop of data and communication.

As part of Frost & Sullivan's recent report recognizes the importance of this data. Bejoy Daniel, Senior Industry Analyst, Transformational Health at Frost & Sullivan states that “data interoperability will help analyze past and present data to predict future health outcomes and patient wellness index for optimum use of resources. The shift in favor of data and algorithms will fuel the algorithmic business and endow businesses with a competitive edge.”

For doctors, this data can be crucial to understand more about how an illness works within the body and for a patient this data can transform their life. Who knew that VR – once thought of as a source of entertainment – would be so game-changing?

Eran Orr is CEO of healthcare technology company XRHealth