Virtual Reality Series: Using Simulations to Achieve Real-Life Benefits in Healthcare Part 2

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Uses of VR in Medical Procedures and Education

Virtual reality helps medical professionals plan for and execute complex procedures, especially in the surgical field. This technology is being implemented in medical schools and surgical training programs so that the next generation of doctors can be trained in innovative techniques to prepare for their future in the medical field and the operating room. Revisit part 1 in the blog series Introduction to Virtual Reality in Healthcare.


VR has been used in surgical procedures since the early 1990s when technology was used to plan out surgeries and present complicated information visually. Since then, VR has been incorporated into numerous medical fields, ranging from neurosurgery to plastic surgery. Surgeries that use VR typically involve tools like haptic devices or immersive workbenches.

Haptic devices are any sort of VR device that allows for a virtual sense of touch through vibrations or force feedback as they move in certain ways. It can be used in games such as driving simulations, in which an individual may receive physical pressure in response to “crashing.” In the medical field, haptic technology allows for remote surgery through being synced with robots that perform work on the patient with a surgeon controlling the device such that they feel like they are operating directly.

Immersive workbenches are physical displays that, when paired with special goggles, allow an individual to see and manipulate a three-dimensional image. VR researchers dispute whether this is a true virtual environment or not, given that the individual is still aware of their physical surroundings even though they are able to manipulate virtual objects. However, the workbench can be used to plan out or practice complex medical procedures through simulating surgery on a displayed human body.


From helping ease communication to allowing people to walk in another’s shoes, VR has used simulations in multiple ways to further education in the medical field. Embodied Labs aims to aid senior citizens through teaching people what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s disease using simulations. Allowing individuals to experience firsthand what it is like to live with a condition makes it easier to identify how to take care of those who have it.

Medical schools also see VR as an avenue for surgeons-in-training to develop and perfect more technical, difficult skills, like performing surgery. Students can use technology like haptic devices or immersive workbenches to practice operating, allowing them to make mistakes in a way that won’t result in anyone getting hurt. In recent years, VR simulators have been able to provide objective feedback or ratings on their work, as the systems understand which procedures are correct.

Virtual reality acts as a programmed helper for doctors, making procedures safer for patients and creating new ways to prepare students for medical and surgical careers. In the final part of the Virtual Reality in Healthcare Series, we will discuss the use of VR in therapeutic medicine and the future of VR in healthcare.