August 31, 2017By Lance Baily

Forbes: VR is the New Reality for Healthcare

Forbes recently reported on the the state of VR in Healthcare, which we strongly believe will have an integral part to play in healthcare simulation in the future, while attending the Games for Change Festival at the Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York City. Going beyond the fun of video game first person shooters, Forbes specifically covered the advances that new VR hardware and software platforms are bringing to healthcare training.

Forbes Article Excerpt:

One example is Isobar’s Common Ground VR. This game aims to simulate…at least for a little bit…what it’s like to have a visual disability like macular degeneration or glaucoma or a disability that restricts your ability to reach (e.g., being in a wheelchair). This way you can see how difficult it is to do things that you may take for granted, like going shopping. As Christie explained, “Playing this game can help not only increase empathy but also help determine what assistance and treatments are needed.”

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Another example is Kognito’s simulation game in which you can play roles such as someone talking to a child about substance abuse, a student potentially in psychological distress, a person contemplating suicide, or a patient who isn’t compliant with taking medications, as described in a publication in the journal mHealth. Ron Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Kognito explained, “By providing players with hands-on practice in navigating critical health conversations with virtual, fully animated virtual humans, we are able to build their confidence and skills to lead similar conversation in real life.”

Training health professionals seems like the most immediate application of VR. An increasing number of health professionals and educators seem open to the idea of using gaming to supplement and enhance traditional health education that has tended to focus on two extremes: direct patient contact and textbook-and-lecture-based learning. The former is limited by the patients who happen to be available or the latter is limited by the fact that it can be really, really, really dull and virtually unrealistic.

As Jenn McNamara, Vice President of Serious Games and Strategic Partnerships for BreakAway Games, related, “Seeing researchers in the healthcare community not only interested in using games for training and assessment of medical professionals but putting time and resources towards the validation of games for these applications is tremendously exciting. I expect we will see a major shift towards adoption of game-based applications in healthcare over the next decade.”

VR and video gaming in general could virtually transform health education in many settings. For example, Breakaway, Ltd, has been working with partners to develop simulation platforms such as Pediatric Sim, a game that teaches and assesses performances on 7 different pediatric emergency scenarios (anaphylaxis, bronchiolitis, diabetic ketoacidosis, respiratory failure, seizure, septic shock and supraventricular tachycardia) and the USC Standard Patient Studio that allows you to talk to different types of patients that visit you in a virtual doctor’s office. One could easily how such games could morph more and more into VR games that get closer and closer to “real” interactions.

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What then are the biggest obstacles preventing VR from becoming more of a presence in health care (besides head sets that feel like an octopus is clinging to your head)? The 3 A’s: awareness, acceptance, and aw, come on, why aren’t more people investing in this? Not everyone in health care is aware of the great potential of VR. Adoption of new technologies and forms of education can be slow in health care, especially if upfront investment is required. Moreover, as Pollack described, “There needs to be balance between commercialization, health and social impact, and discoverability.

Many of these game developers are competing against larger manufacturers with multi-million dollar production budgets.” Currently, it may seem easier and more profitable to develop a game where you can shoot everything around you or that’s the umpteenth sequel to an already popular video game line (e.g., as of 2016, the video game character Mario has been a centerpiece of 119 different video games).

What then will it take to get more VR nurse Marios or Dr. Donkey Kongs? More investment to develop more games to help people see (and touch) the potential value of VR. It’s not as if people in the 1970’s said that we really need a way to eat dots on a video screen while creatures that look like large heads of hair chase you around a maze. The creation of the PacMan by the Japanese company Namco in 1980 then led people to realize that they could spend entire afternoons doing nothing but that…and real money could be earned.

Similarly, more initial success stories could bolster interest and expand the market. At this time, investors such as venture capitalists may not see the multiples of return to attract them. However, other funders such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense, healthcare entities, and angel investors who are not necessarily beholden to as quick returns-on-investment could jump start the VR “revolution.”

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