Virtual Reality in Healthcare and Pharma

Coverage of Virtual Reality (VR) and how it’s transforming the way businesses connect with customers has, to-date, primarily focused on entertainment and gaming opportunities but some of its most important applications may come in the health care space. As a powerful visual storytelling technology, VR’s impact can already be felt in the sector, from patient engagement and health literacy to clinical trials, medical education and therapy adherence.

Shift Happens

In 2016 we’ve witnessed the VR industry really gain momentum with HTC, Oculus, Daydream and Playstation all releasing headsets this year in the race to conquer this emerging market; a market that Goldman Sachs predicts will be bigger than TV in the next 10 years, generating $125 billion in revenues by 2025. As we’ve seen earlier, these developments are indicative of a platform shift happening, with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality set to be the next computing platform. VR is essentially a 3D, computer generated environment that can be explored and interacted with by a person whereas AR is the layering of computer generated information over the real world environment.

In a move that signals further progression of VR as an industry, several of the biggest names in technology – including Facebook, Google and Samsung – recently announced that they are joining forces to form the Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA). The group will provide some much needed unification of software and hardware standards in the industry and help push forward innovation and accelerate content and uptake.  Beyond advances in technology and more affordable hardware, increased uptake will depend on increased content and applications and quality of user experience.

 

Transforming How Businesses Connect With Customers

From virtual showrooms (fashion, automotive) to virtual product viewings (travel, furniture etc) and emotive, branded experiences, businesses across all major sectors have been quick to seize on VR’s potential and healthcare and pharma is joining the fray.

VR can be used to simulate rich, multi-modal and highly controllable environments, making it particularly useful in healthcare. Its inherent features (from extended field view and head and motion tracking to gesture-based control) are able to drive a much more immersive and ‘real’ experience as well as emotional connection with the user. In healthcare, this visual storytelling has potential to drive much deeper physician and patient engagement and message retention than traditional channels across wide reaching use cases.

Medication Adherence

Patient engagement and medication adherence is a key area where VR can add value. Virtual reality and 360-degree video can help address adherence by telling the story of patient journeys through scientifically accurate, deep visualizations of conditions, disease states and therapies. The bottom line is that more informed patients have better recoveries, reduced readmissions and improved satisfaction; and better informed physicians make better prescribing decisions. Where medication non-adherence alone is estimated to cost pharma over $500bn in lost revenue globally every year, any significant impact on patient and HCP journeys that helps close the adherence gap, can be transformative.

Examples include Novo Nordisk Diabetes Voyager VR initiative that aimed to engage younger patients and encourage better medication adherence with immersive 3D models and gaming elements. BioGaming’s immersive games that drive better adherence to physiotherapy regimens is another example, as is Stanford University’s medical visualization platform for patient engagement and adherence, that allows fully immersive, patient-specific, interactive VR reconstructions of their disease and treatment.

 

 

Medical Education

Immersive medical instructional content to educate medical professionals as well as patients and other healthcare stakeholders, is another area subject to some positive transformation. VR has been used in physician training for the past few years and has been shown to reduce the cost of training, improve learning efficiency (faster and with better retention), reach a wider audience and provide a completely safe learning environment.

For example, Miami Children’s Hospital developed VR didactic modules on CPR as well as other lifesaving procedures and found that HCP retention level a year after a VR training session could be as much as 80%, compared to 20% retention after a week with traditional training.

Similarly, the use of VR in medical training has been seen to increase medical students’ experience in a virtual setting with simulation practice to minimize complications experienced by actual patients. Examples include The Royal College of Surgeons that recently teamed up with education group Pearson to harness tech like VR to train their students, allowing them to actually be there virtually in the OR using their VR goggles. Another example is Penn State’s Simulation Center that has used VR simulators in the promotion of instructor development.

Therapy and Beyond

Other use cases span medical procedures and therapy (eg palliative care, mental health treatments, pain relief) and as a tool to enhance engagement at pharma congresses. For example, Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles introduced VR worlds to their patients to help them release stress and reduce pain and Swiss MindMaze VR software and hardware helps speed up recovery after stroke.

 

 

As pharma’s value proposition evolves beyond product focus alone to one that’s more centred on brand differentiation, patient adherence and ultimately outcomes, it’s increasingly critical to find better ways to engage and connect with key stakeholders. As we’ve seen, VR can be a powerful tool to do this and those who understand and embrace these shifts will be better able to head off key business challenges than their peers who don’t.