Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

How is VR Changing Public Health?

December 3, 2020 · No Comments · Technology, Uncategorized

According to Mitchell in 2020, “Virtual reality refers to a computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within an artificial three-dimensional environment using electronic devices, such as special goggles with a screen or gloves fitted with sensors”. When someone is using VR, they can look up and down and around them and see images as if they were actually in that place. VR is one of the new and upcoming technology items that has the creative ability to be used in public health in all areas around the world. VR is different than AR (Augmented Reality) though. According to Mitchell in 2020, AR enhances the real world as it already exists, though graphical overlays and does not create a fully immersive experience. To learn more about the basic information about VR, click here.

Until last week, I thought that VR was only used in video games and maybe some training exercises for the military, etc. I was amazed to learn that there are many and many other uses for VR other than video games and trainings such as incorporating them into fields such as global health. I also did not realize that VR is already being used in some current global health studies. Some other current uses for VR are simulating driving a car for a new student driver, giving tours of a house or other property to potential buyers/developers without actually being there, allowing medical students to practice surgical techniques, and training astronauts for space travel (Mitchell, 2020). But beyond all of these other uses lies the most important (in my opinion) use for VR – Education.

It is really easy to show someone a picture of an area. But everyone knows that a picture (normally) never does a place justice. Which can be a good thing and can be a bad thing. A picture probably will not show exactly how beautiful a waterfall is, how tall a building is in relation to a human or the surrounding trees and mountains, or how congested with traffic a busy street in a city is. I know from personal experience that unless something is experienced in person, the full effect of an image will not be grasped.  For example, the picture on the left is a really cool picture and you can tell that is is probably taken in a city, but the viewer has no idea or frame of reference for how tall those buildings actually are. But VR can change this! With a headset on, a person will be able to look up and get a better idea and feeling of just how massive and tall those buildings are in comparison to themselves.  On the flip side, VR will also be able to educate people on how bad something is. For example, a picture will attempt to show how bad a trash covered island is, how polluted our waters are, how crowded slums in a third world county are, etc. but many people will not totally grasp the message that is trying to be sent. VR has the ability to fully immerse someone into these difficult areas and inspire people to change and get involved. 

An example of a current use of VR technology in public health is through the de Beaumont Foundation, the American College of Preventative Medicine, the Prevention Institute, and Brightline Interactive.

They have created a VR experience called “Health in All Communities”  (a scence from the experience is shown above) that highlights the role of policy in shaping community health (Cinnick & Mulloy, 2020). The users can view scenes like urban community blocks, apartments in different countries and areas, schools, etc. These different places have the ability to highlight things that affect social determinants of health such as housing, safe transportation, healthy food options, etc. 

I am personally very excited to see where VR can take public health (especially global health) in the future. I believe there are and will be amazing opportunities to engage people in areas and situations that are more easily accessible and not potentially harmful to the user. VR technology has also gotten more affordable since the invention of VR. With VR options becoming more affordable, public health will be able to utilize VR more often and in more areas. 



Cinnick, S., & Mulloy, N. (2020, May 04). Virtual Reality: Advancing Public Health with New Technologies. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from

Mitchell, C. (2020, October 14). Virtual Reality. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from


There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment

Skip to toolbar