Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Virtual Reality in Healthcare

December 7, 2020 · No Comments · Technology, Uncategorized

If you are like me, probably you have never heard before that virtual reality can be used in the health field. First of all, let’s understand what we mean with virtual reality.



Virtual reality immerses you in a virtual world through the use of a headset with some type of screen displaying a virtual environment. The technology can follow your head movements and allows you to see a 360-degree view of the virtual environment.

There are two types of headset that you can use. The first one has the screen built into the headset and needs a powerful computer to be connected to. They are also more expensive. The second one uses your phone screen as a display and you just need to download an application.

Virtual reality is being used a lot in the entertainment industry, in sports and in gaming. But surprisingly it also has applications in other fields like architecture and healthcare.


How is Virtual Reality Used in Medicine 


The article 5 Ways Medical Virtual Reality is Already Changing Healthcare summarizes some of the ways that virtually reality is shaping healthcare.

From Watching Surgery to Training for Future Surgeons

In 2016, the first virtual reality surgery was conducted and it could be viewed online from anyone around the world. Now, virtual reality is being used to train future surgeons and to train surgeons on new techniques. This type of training is an option to supplement the standard type of training. According to a study published by Cochrane virtual reality training appears to decrease the operating time and improve the operative performance of surgical trainees with limited laparoscopic experience when compared with no training or with box‐trainer training (type of training help for laparoscopy)

Relaxing Patients 

In a pilot study, patients undergoing surgery at St George’s Hospital in London had the option to use a VR headset prior to and during their operation to view calming landscapes during the procedure. 100% of the participants reported that their overall hospital experience was improved by wearing the headset, while 94% said they felt more relaxed. Furthermore, 80% said they felt less pain after wearing the headset and 73% reported feeling less anxious. 

Virtual reality has potential in managing acute and procedural pain and familiarizing children with future procedures. According to a study Won et al, VR may also assist in the treatment of pediatric chronic pain via neuromodulation. 

Education and Training 

Dr. Brennan Spiegel gave an entire MedEd Lecture entirely immersed in virtual reality with the support of Medscape and Confideo Labs.


 A group in London have been transmitting their surgeries in real time to hundreds of thousands of students worldwide, allowing them to get that exposure no matter where they are, no matter what their medical school does or where it’s located. 


Is Helping Mental Health


They can help ameliorate different mental illnesses by placing patients in immersive environments. There is research going on which shows virtual reality can lead to significant reductions in depression severity and self-criticism, as well as to a significant increase in self-compassion, from baseline to 4-week follow-up.

A study was conducted to see if exposure to virtual reality would reduce opioid use during painful wound care procedures. The use of virtuality reality produced a 39% reduction in opioid medication.  

Dr. Suraj Kapa tells the story of a friend with severe Alzheimer’s disease who was put in an immersive map environment. She was looking at the place where she was born and all the places she lived. For a brief period of time during the immersion and afterward, she was completely lucid.

Virtual Reality Is Also Shaping Public Health 

Virtual reality has been shown in different exhibitions at annual conferences like American Public Health Association, CDC National Conference on Health Communication and Society for Public Health Education. There is potential for VR to be integrated into health communication strategies.  

A study published in May 2020 showed how VR can be useful to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be used to train medical doctors how to treat patients, by offering doctors and medical personnel to withstand and practice all the most complex cases by supporting them to have reachability as similar to real patient handling, as the case might be.

At Georgia State University , Dr. Salazar  wrote the script for a brief film called “Real Decisions”. It’s a fully immersive 3D short. You can’t intervene, because you are not really there, but you can see and experience the four different endings. 

A lot of global health classes can be conducted through virtual reality. Most of the time, students have great project ideas in their mind, but unfortunately reality is not the same for each country. Something that works well in the American context, might not work as in Lebanon for example. This is why it is important to create connections. Connections with the community, with people who live there, and with young persons who are the same age as you but have a different culture and background. Virtual reality can help in creating some of these connections. A new study by MUBS, Stanford, and Cardiff Metropolitan University researchers shows the effectiveness of Virtual Reality technologies in creating an effective learning environment among Public Health students in the United Kingdom and Lebanon. The tool helped to promote empathy, intimate understanding of the subject matter, and a collaborative tool through which teams could utilize to tackle in-the-field challenges. Students felt closer to the subject of their research, and their emotions were affected by what they saw.


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