Virtual reality is revolutionizing the world of healthcare

Who I am
Adriana Gil
Author and references


  • Exposure therapy
  • Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Pain management
  • Surgeon training
  • Phantom member
  • Diagnosis and treatment of brain damage
  • Improved social cognition of young adults with autism
  • Meditation
  • Opportunities for the disabled
  • Opportunities for those who do not leave their homes

After a first virtual reality experience, the user often begins to imagine all the possibilities that technological progress could offer. In the medical world, the potential of virtual reality is limitless. And the good news is that scientists and medical professionals have been working on the development and implementation of virtual reality in the medical industry for several years. Here is ten examples of the application of virtual reality to the world of healthcare.

Exposure therapy

One of the treatments recommended for people with phobias is exposure therapy. It is a technique of desensitization which consists in exposing the patient to the environment which poses a problem for him. Following this idea, psychiatrists at the University of Louisville are using virtual reality to help their patients overcoming fears such as claustrophobia or fear of flying.

Thanks to virtual reality, patients are immersed in a very specific environment where they can face their fears, develop defense mechanisms and break the avoidance strategy, all this in a private and secure environment. The experience is all the more convincing as it can be easily interrupted or repeated as needed.

Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder

More recently, clinics and hospitals have begun to use virtual reality to reproduce war scenes similar to those experienced by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. These patients constantly relive the traumatic events they have experienced on several levels. Immersed in a well-defined environment, they can learn to endure visions that could cause them to behave destructively which harms them and harms those around them.

Pain management

A study conducted by the military in 2011 found that SnowWorld was more effective than morphine in soldiers with burns resulting in particular from the explosion of improvised explosive devices.

Surgeon training

Surgeons usually begin by practicing on cadavers before assisting experienced physicians. Little by little, they carry out more complex and longer tasks, until practicing operations from start to finish. Virtual reality could provide them with a another way to exercise without risking injury to a patient.

Phantom member

A large number of amputees suffer from phantom limb. An arm amputee patient may thus feel as though they are firmly clenching their fist, preventing them from relaxing. But manifestations of the phantom limb can be worse and, frequently, the sensation is painful, even unbearable.

Among the treatments used, we can mention mirror box, which consists of using the reflection of the existing limb to give the illusion to the brain that the reflected image is that of the phantom limb.

The user must find the exit of a building by borrowing doors of different colors. It looks like Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), a neuropsychological test where the participant must associate cards. He doesn't know how to classify these cards, he only knows if he classifies them well or badly. “The authors concluded that their virtual test assessed the same cognitive functions as WCST and that it was perhaps more ecological “, Can we read in the review.

Improved social cognition of young adults with autism


While breathing, the user moves from one place to another

More recently, Fove, a Japanese start-up that created a virtual reality headset, launched a crowdfunding campaign to create an app, Eye Play the Piano, through which disabled children could play the piano thanks to the technology of eye movement tracking.

Opportunities for those who do not leave their homes

Some are worried about consequences of virtual reality in our lives : when we can go anywhere and do anything with a virtual reality headset, maybe we prefer to retreat to an ideal virtual world rather than go out and explore the real world.

Whether this concern is justified or not, some people, by their age or disability, for example, do not have the possibility to leave their homes. Virtual reality could therefore improve their quality of life and allow them to see something other than a retirement home, a room or a bed.

Last year, engineering students at Stanford University created a virtual reality experience for seniors. These can take advantage of the outside world, making a Bike ride or walking on the beach. To make the experience more real, SUSIE, Senior-User Soothing Immersive Experience, acts on sound, light, wind and even temperature. The image is projected onto a large screen that covers the user's field of vision.

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