Why Is Remote Healthcare In Demand?
There are two factors driving the growth of remote healthcare technology. First, wealthy countries around the world are rapidly becoming older. Japan and Italy already have large populations over the age of 60. One estimate projects that 40% of the Japanese population will be over 65 by 2050. These older populations tend to require more health care. Second, societies are struggling to pay for increased health care costs. To cope with those realities, remote health care technologies are becoming more popular.
The Hardware That Makes Remote Healthcare Possible
There are a few critical devices that enable remote healthcare virtual reality. There are two broad ways to approach health care VR hardware. First, you can use existing VR hardware from the marketplace (e.g. Oculus Go). Second, you can create a customized healthcare VR device. In terms of mass-market adoption, off-the-shelf VR devices are likely to become the most popular solution.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the hardware components inside VR headsets.
- Temperature Sensors. Taking regular temperature measurements is a crucial piece of data to deliver health care. For remote health care to work effectively, these sensors need to be networked so that data can be gathered easily. If a rising fever is detected during a VR session, the health care provider can be notified and advise the patient to take medication, water or other treatments. Continuously gathering temperature data from a patient also makes it easier to improve the quality of medical diagnosis.
- Accelerometers. In a virtual reality environment, the system needs a way to orient the user. An accelerometer helps you to detect which direction is up. That’s why you need an accelerometer in the VR device. Without this hardware component, a health care patient may become disoriented and feel ill.
- Wireless Radio. A VR headset can be wired or wireless. However, to deliver the most flexible experience for remote health care, you need a wireless network connection. For example, VRHealth has used Oculus Go in health care. The Oculus Go is designed to operate on batteries and connect the VR environment using WiFi.
- High-Resolution Screens. For VR to be helpful, a patient needs to be able to see visual information in detail. To continue with the Oculus Go example, it comes with a 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 WQHD fast-switch LCD (i.e. 1280 x 1440 per eye). For instance, if a patient is asked to perform a physiotherapy exercise through virtual reality, they will need to see each movement in detail before they do it. A fast-switch LCD display is one way to cover that need. Distortions and errors in the display will disrupt the virtual reality experience, so high-quality displays are needed.
- Audio Technology (Speakers and Microphone). For remote healthcare VR to succeed, audio hardware is critical. For example, if a patient is in pain, the nurse or person treating them needs to be able to hear those sounds. One company has created immersive environments to simulate Iraq and Afghanistan, which “includes sound effects such as weapon discharge and radio chatter, as well as vibrations designed to mimic engine rumbling and explosions,” according to a report from ZD Net. By including these audio features, the system is more realistic. That level of realism is critical to delivering a credible health experience. This level of audio realism also helps health care professionals to develop their skills under real-world circumstances.
These are just some of the hardware devices that go into a remote healthcare VR system. The next generation of healthcare VR may enable more diagnostic activities. Instead of asking patients to sit in a waiting room for hours, their vital signs can be read remotely. That saves time for the healthcare system and makes life more convenient for banks.
Using Virtual Reality To Improve Healthcare
Now that we understand the hardware components in health care virtual reality, let’s take a closer look at how it is used.
- Reduce The Cost of Healthcare. In some cases, renewing a prescription requires a visit with a health professional. In some cases, this checkup can be performed by virtual reality. This flexibility means health professionals with spare capacity will now be able to enter the marketplace. AARP, an organization that represents the interests of older people, is currently working at implementing VR.
- Remote Mental Healthcare Services. Unlike other types of health care, mental health is relatively difficult to access. For example, specialists with expertise in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are difficult to find in smaller communities. By using virtual reality, mental health patients can safely relieve difficult situations, such as places in which they were attacked.
- Healthcare Professional Development and Training. The traditional approach to training doctors and nurses is flawed. Some institutions rely on cadavers that are not responsive and are in limited supply. By contrast, using a VR environment makes it easy to simulate patients with a wide variety of conditions (e.g. surgery, battle injuries and complications). This type of training is a significant advance over “medical dummy” simulations.
As virtual reality systems improve, the above benefits will improve. In addition to technology, there are other issues to consider. How insurance providers will treat remote health care is a critical issue to solve. If doctors are incentivized to focus on traditional patient care, remote health care will struggle to achieve mass adoption. However, increasing usage of VR technology for entertainment means social acceptance of VR in healthcare is likely to go up over time.
Where Remote Healthcare Technology Will Go Next
Aside from virtual reality, there is one other hardware trend coming to healthcare. We’re excited about health care robotics. These devices can carry and assist patients so they do not fall. Preventing falls will only become more critical as the population continues to age.