No longer a gimmick; VR in Australian Healthcare
Can we finally see a use for VR in Australian Healthcare? While the technology has somewhat of an underwhelming and even disappointing past, recent advances in the technology suggest that it’s now time for healthcare marketers to take VR and its benefits seriously.
Ecosystem and Form Factor Improvements
Driving this increased relevance is a matured ecosystem across several competing companies. Recent advances involving Facebook’s Oculus, HTC, Sony’s PlayStation and more demonstrate that they are developing holistic platforms that integrate social elements, entertainment, education and ecommerce seamlessly.
The hardware itself is seeing incredible advances, with a myriad of options available for brands to leverage depending on your objective. For example, are you looking to engage a small audience with a complex and engaging experience? If so, you can leverage tethered headsets which are connected to a PC to crunch high-end graphics as users interact with the digital world around them. Or, do you want to reach a mass audience? Cardboard campaigns are at your disposal, where the end users load a simple 360 video or VR experience with limited interaction onto their own mobile.
While each of these scenarios has both advantages and disadvantages, importantly there still seems to be a gap in the technology for experiences that range in between the high reach vs high interactivity extremes. Especially relevant for healthcare marketers, we are missing a device that marries both mobility and user engagement.
With Oculus Quest having just been launched in May this year, tech journalists are predicting that gap has now been filled. It is a standalone headset, meaning there is no need to tether to a computer, and no need to insert a mobile. It has inside out tracking, meaning there is no need to set up external sensors. And, it has dual controllers which have full six degrees of freedom, which means users will be able to use these controllers to manipulate objects in three-dimensional space.
We think this is what healthcare communications has been waiting for. We will now be able to offer rich, engaging, fully immersive education, communication & training experiences. All on a reasonably priced and mobile device. What better way to inform HCPs on a new device or drug mode of action?
Rules of engagement
If you’re thinking of utilising VR, there are three key considerations in evaluating the benefits of the technology.
1 Scale – you are able to transport your audience to places they would never be able to experience otherwise, for example you could make them microscopic, take them into the human body, or let them see the inner workings of a new medical device.
2 Empathy – you can make deeper connections by engaging more of the user’s senses and allowing them to be an active part of the experience, rather than simply being passive viewers.
3 Storytelling – there are far more tools at your disposal than typical 2d visual/audio content to make VR experiences much more impactful and memorable.
If your brief could see added value from any of these considerations, then VR may be the solution you’re looking for.
Far reaching implications
Considering we are still living in the early experimental days of VR development, each experience is a test and opportunity for learning. As we evaluate which healthcare areas might most benefit from VR applications, we’ve noted some great examples in the fields of education/training that can be adapted.
Education in VR
Challenge-based Learning (CBL) is an education framework for solving real-world challenges. The framework is collaborative and hands-on, requiring participants to dissect and solve problems, gain in-depth subject area knowledge, develop 21st-century skills, and share their thoughts with the world. As the technology continues to improve, it will be exciting to watch the benefits VR can add to a CBL framework, offering the scalability of digital technology with the tactility of an immersive experience.
Various education institutions are already leveraging the benefits of VR with CBL frameworks, and we see great potential to capitalise on best-practice advancements for use in healthcare communication and provide real value to our HCP customers in the form of memorable educational experiences.
Below are some applications of VR being used for health education and training that are already in use:
Fundamental Surgery: FundamentalVR have developed the “flight simulator for surgeons.” A VR experience which provides haptic (touch) feedback when training for surgery.
First Aid CPR: St John Ambulance developed a virtual reality experience which puts CPR students into a digital emergency situation.
Paramedic VR: St John’s Ambulance WA is using VR to train paramedics on how to respond to an emergency first within a virtual world.
Road to Birth: University of Newcastle developed an experience to help bridge the gap between classroom theory and real patient care for midwives.
Journey to the centre of a cell: UNSW used the latest room-scale VR technology and high-resolution electron microscopy data to allow researchers to observe the processes by which nanoparticles carrying cancer drugs are internalized and trafficked within a cancer cell.
Virtuali-Tee: UK-based company Curiscope developed a T-shirt, through which you can see the inner parts of the human body via realistic holograms.
With VR technology advancing at the pace it is, we’ll be keeping a close eye on how this is going to transform healthcare communications. First step: get our hands on an Oculus Quest!