Virtual Reality Could Be Big For Medicine

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A woman using a virtual reality headset from Samsung at the SXSW conference.  (Nan Palmero/Flickr )

Virtual reality may be an emerging technology, but it's already making an impact in health care.

Virtual reality or "VR" goggles offer an immersive and three-dimensional experience. People who have worn VR goggles from Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, or Samsung Gear VR describe the experience as highly realistic—you're sitting in your living room but you feel like you're surfing a wave, playing with dinosaurs, or walking on the moon.

At the Exponential Medicine conference in San Diego last week, virtual reality was all the rage. During the medical education track, doctors showed off a new video, which is designed to be viewed from an Oculus Rift headset. The video was produced by London-based Medical Realities, a business focused on bringing gaming and virtual reality to medical education.

If you don't have access to a pair of VR goggles, but do have a newer computer and software, it's still worth a watch. Try dragging your cursor from a regular old smartphone or desktop to change the angle of view.


"For virtual reality, the biggest opportunity in medicine is education," Halle Tecco told me. She's a founder of Rock Health, a venture firm dedicated to digital health.

In the past, medical schools relied on more passive forms of learning, including watching two-dimensional videos and taking exams. But Tecco says progressive medical educators are taking an interest in virtual reality.

Virtual reality gives students the opportunity to learn (and potentially even make mistakes) in a more realistic and interactive environment. One medical school, Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., recently opened a virtual reality lab so its students can take a virtual tour of human anatomy.

Tecco says she also see possibilities for patients to view their own surgeries. People who are considering a surgery might wish to watch their doctor perform a similar procedure on a patient. Others might opt to watch a video of their own surgery.

While this might sound distasteful or downright bizarre, it's actually a growing trend. Some well-known doctors, like this dermatologist, have build an enormous following by posting graphic videos of their procedures. But be advised: If you have a weak stomach, do not dive into any of these videos right before lunch!

Would you give your doctor permission to film your surgery for medical education? Would you want to watch it? Let us know at @KQEDhealth.