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Virtual reality: The next frontier for healthcare

Virtual reality is a computer-simulated environment created with software that can recreate sensory experiences and is presented to the user so the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment.

Already popular in film-making and video games, virtual reality technology now is predicted to grow in healthcare in the coming years, according to several reports.

The market for virtual reality in healthcare is expected to reach $1.45 billion by 2020, according to a report by Research and Markets.

And, according to another report by Acute Market Reports, the U.S. is the most popular market for healthcare virtual reality. In 2013, North America had the biggest presence of virtual reality in the healthcare market with an 80% market share, the report said. In the same year, the U.S. held the biggest market share overall (75%). The U.S. healthcare virtual reality market is being driven by strong research, development and investments by the government and private firms, the report indicated.

Not only will this technology become more prevalent in healthcare, but it also has many applications including in psychiatry, training, medical practice, surgery simulation, robotic surgery and others.

In fact, virtual reality is already being used in some hospitals.

One example of how it’s being used is the case of a four-month-old named Teegan Lexcen who was born with one lung, a defective heart, and a slim chance of surviving. Pediatric surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, took computer scans of Teegan’s heart and lung and uploaded the images onto an iPhone. They then used a $20 Google Cardboard device to view the MRI scans—which they had converted into 3D images—to visualize the procedure they were about to do.

The doctors were able to successfully decide where to make their first incision because of virtual reality imaging. Ultimately, the seven-hour open heart procedure to rebuild Teegan’s aorta went well and she will be ok.

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