The future of VR in healthcare: GIANT Health event 2018

Written by Hannah Cox on Thursday 13th December 2018

On 21st November 2018, I was lucky enough to attend the GIANT health event in London, a ‘festival of health tech innovation’ which showcases the leading health tech from around the world. 

Predominantly sticking to the ‘Revolutionising healthcare with immersive technology’ track produced and hosted by Steve Dana from Medical Realities, there was a clear focus on how VR could revolutionise the way we see healthcare and how it’s already being used to change lives. 

VR (Virtual reality) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment; is a great tool for knowledge sharing and low-risk surgery training.

You may be surprised to know that it’s already being used in many treatments including;

  • Pain relief - particularly in burn victims, it’s being used as a distraction; as humans we can’t focus on many things at once and because of the immersive nature of VR it occupies so much of a patients attentional resources that there’s not much left to focus on the acute pain they would otherwise struggle with. In addition and quite remarkably, there is a surgeon in Mexico who is actively using VR instead of sedatives when performing surgeries.
  • Phantom Limb Syndrome - there was an example of a man who lost his arm at a young age and had been suffering with phantom pain for 20 years, with VR, doctors were able to ‘restore his arm' allowing the brain to recognise there was no pain. He was documented to have been without pain for 3/4 hours after the VR experience and was quoted saying “If I could live in VR forever, I would"
  • Anxiety, Depression, Stress - VR gives users suffering with these mental troubles the ability to transport themselves to another reality that responds to your breath and calms the user. In not so many words it’s a game which teaches you to practice toleration, management and eventually/hopefully overcoming these feelings and triggers.

The ability to use VR in training could transform the way surgeons, nurses and even other public service providers are trained. There are many examples of the way it is being used. One notable example, a Medical Training Simulator created by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland which immerses the user in a virtual world where they have to assess a patient, making real-time decisions and performing procedures as they would in the real world.

Being introduced to the reality of a surgeons training was eye-opening. A professional surgeon is only allowed to have 2/3 students in the operating theatre at one time, which in a class of ~300 leaves many students without the exposure to real-life surgeries. With VR, surgeons would be able to live-stream a 4K 360º video of a surgery being performed allowing every student to have the same opportunities - this was tested in April of this year when the first 360º recorded surgery was streamed live and watched by ~55,000 people. 

So, as well as being a new medium to use during the training of students it could also prove to be a huge cost-saving tool for universities, hospitals and the NHS.

Leon Ancliffe from FlixFilms works alongside Royal Trinity Hospice to provide patients with experiences that they are no longer able to fulfil themselves and allowing them to complete items on their bucket lists that they were otherwise incapable of completing.

Here’s a heart-warming video of a particular patient who had always wanted to swim with dolphins but due to a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease rendering her unable to walk or talk, she wasn’t able to achieve it. The team at FlixFilms were able to immerse her in this alternative world where she was able to do the things she’d always wanted to do. 

Furthermore, there are a lot of companies looking at how we can use VR in conjunction with other technologies. A company called HaptX are developing glove tech which will allow users to further immerse themselves in this parallel reality. With this technology users will be able to feel the size, weight, temperature and impact of virtual objects.

There are many ways VR is already being used to revolutionise healthcare - who knows what we will be able to accomplish in the future!

Hannah Cox is a Digital Designer from OPEN Digital, the in-house digital team at OPEN Health. For further information on OPEN Health and our digital solutions, please get in touch with Carwyn Jones, Senior Partner at