The field of healthcare is undergoing a massive scientific change and revolution as a result of technology. One disruptive technology that is rewriting the delivery of care is virtual reality (VR) technology. VR is the use of computer simulation and modeling technologies that facilitate interaction with three dimensional virtual and sensory environments. VR technology was initially popularized in the 1990s. Since then, scientific research has produced a plethora of studies to present new discoveries and applications in various fields. The health healthcare sector has experienced a huge increase in the application of VR. Uses span from the creation of new life-saving techniques to medical training, patient treatment, surgery, medical marketing, and disease awareness. In essence, VR applications immerse users in computer-generated environments that simulate reality through special integrative devices that communicate with the user. Virtual Reality devices are becoming increasingly available to the average consumer, meaning that sooner or later, patients may also reap the benefits of VR technologies. Examples of VR devices comprise headsets, goggles, bodysuits, and gloves.
A significant area in healthcare where VR is progressively transforming procedures and workflows is education (Fertleman et al., 2018). Notably, many healthcare operations require the utilization of expensive high tech equipment which may not be available to everyone. VR provides a cheaper alternative by providing simulations that mimic wards and operation rooms. Simulators are an advantageous way of training aspiring surgeons, medical professionals, and assisting nurses. Many healthcare educators have already implemented VR in training. For Example, Stanford University uses a surgery simulator that provides haptic feedback to the user.
Despite its promising benefits, VR technology is plagued by several ethical limitations. Virtual Reality is a new technology, and as such, its implementation presents challenges that impact the user in various proportions. For instance, there is no evidence documenting prospected side effects since no one has utilized VR before in healthcare settings. Researchers have cited the significant concern that the application of VR could lead to the occurrence of unexpected side effects. Some have cited cybersickness as a potential outcome because of incongruous sensory cues that emerge when one uses VR. Incongruous sensory cues denote a conflict between casual, auditory, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses and the user’s expectations based on real-world experiences.
The use of VR may pose significant issues to children and elderly populations. Children are highly susceptible to information and can confuse what is real and what is virtual. Studies that have featured children in VR experiments have concluded that children are more likely to believe that virtual characters are real (Segovia & Bailenson, 2009). Additionally, since VR involves full immersion of the user into a virtual environment, elderly people and people with mental issues can have adverse reactions. Traditional moral responsibilities are not applicable in the virtual world since the latter may lack or include aspects that are not synonymous with those of the physical world. It is important to investigate environmental impacts, account social involvement, and other repercussions that Virtual Reality may bring when applied in healthcare settings.
In conclusion, virtual reality technologies offer healthcare communities a vast array of opportunities, but they also present an equal share of challenges that require further assessment and research. The future of VR in healthcare is seemingly boundless and the current range of applications is getting wider by the day.