We look at the ways in which virtual reality will impact our daily lives in the future.

At Oxford Medical Simulation we are constantly investigating the impact of virtual reality in healthcare training and simulation. Throughout our discussions with students, clinicians, educators and simulation professionals it’s clear there is a huge appetite for VR to improve clinical training and the delivery of simulation. However, whilst people are enthusiastic about applying VR to specific use cases – such as virtual reality medical simulation – we are yet to see VR truly embedded into everyday life.

However, as VR headsets come down further in price and software becomes even more accessible, this is changing. To that end, we’ve put together a list of six areas that we predict will have been changed by virtual reality by 2025…

1. Training and Education

Healthcare is one of the primary areas benefiting from VR training and education, with immersive technologies being used to simulate surgical procedures and medical emergencies. Learners are able to enter VR and practice managing complex situations with no risk to real lives.
Companies such as 3D systems and Digital Surgery focus on the surgical aspects, while those such as OMS cover the medical and nursing aspects. We recently wrote about the collaborative work of OMS and the NHS England Diabetes Programme – training doctors using VR to reduce errors in treating patients with diabetes.  

VR training has expanded due to increased understanding that experiential learning is the best way to understand and retain information. Given this rising acceptance of experience over traditional study, it’s no surprise that immersive technologies are being used in other fields of education, too.

At the Natural History Museum in London the ‘Hold the World’ portal allows visitors to be guided through historical artefacts by Sir David Attenborough. Similarly, the Anne Frank House VR experience allows users to travel back in time and experience life as it was in the famous Amsterdam attic. Similarly, archaeologist David R. Hixson of Hood College is using virtual reality to bring the ancient Maya City of Chunchucmil to life for modern day visitors, allowing them to experience what daily life was really like in the ancient world.

VR offers a way for us to embed immersive experiences into learning curriculums in myriad ways, and it won’t be long before we see these experiences leave museums and specialist skills labs and enter the mainstream classroom.

Sir David Attenborough with virtual reality education equipment (Natural History Museum)

2. Experiences and Entertainment

The way in which VR may transform conventional forms of entertainment are yet to become clear. Notwithstanding gaming – in which VR has well and truly made its mark (Beat Saber famously sold over 100,000 copies in its first month) – the world’s film and television are only just dipping their toes into the water.

However, we are seeing some forays into VR experiences as content akin to traditional TV and film. The Baobab Studios 2018 offering, Crow: The Legend, was a VR animated film that featured Oprah Winfrey and John Legend that received critical praise. This kind of animated content – with a star-studded cast to pack a punch – is a great way to get consumers accustomed to the idea of virtual reality as an entertainment form beyond gaming. Critics are also embracing VR as a new story-telling device. For example, 2018’s Venice Film Festival had a dedicated segment for VR Works. As the technology continues to improve year on year (Oculus just released a new, sensor-free Rift model as a precursor to the wireless Quest model) it’s only a matter of time before we’re donning our VR headsets to enter the virtual world of our favourite films and TV shows, rather than just watching them on screen.

VR is also being used by contemporary artists to produce new immersive offerings. Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons have both collaborated with Acute Art – an agency that specialises in producing artworks using virtual reality. There will also be a dedicated VR space at this year’s upcoming Frieze festival in New York. With influential events, artists and organisations backing virtual reality art, it won’t be long until we’re consuming this in the same way as we do traditional paintings, sculptures and more.

3. Patient Care

The impact of vr in healthcare goes beyond training and education, and VR is showing huge potential in areas such as pain management and treatment for specific conditions. Companies such as Virtue are leading the way in applying VR to dementia and Alzheimer’s treatment. Using immersive technology to recreate familiar childhood scenarios and trigger memories – Virtue is taking reminiscence therapy to new heights. In an area that traditional healthcare struggled to tackle (Pfizer ended its research into new Alzheimer’s drugs last year) virtual reality may just be the answer.

Similarly, virtual reality technology has been shown to reduce pain during complicated childbirth scenarios. Trials at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have shown that using immersive VR experiences during external cephalic version procedures (where breech babies are manually turned) can significantly reduce pain.

At Cedars Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles  significant research and work is going into the impacts of therapeutic VR. It has already been shown to have fantastic results in terms of pain management and recovery. At their Virtual Medicine Conference in March this year, we heard from Former Cedars Sinai patient Harmon Clarke who recalled how meditating and travelling in VR during his hospital stay, instead of relying solely on pain medication, accelerated his recovery from Crohn’s disease.

Skip Rizzo, a psychologist and leading mind in therapeutic VR has conducted award-winning research into the positive effects of  virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat PTSD and continue to analyse the benefits of virtual reality therapy across a range of psychological domains.

Virtual Reality Patient Care (Evidently Cochrane)

4. Shopping

How we shop has already transformed beyond recognition over the last decade. Virtual reality technology will open up new possibilities for how we engage with consumer products and ultimately, buy them.

The most obvious application of this is within the home improvements market. VR home design tools will allow consumers to place potential furniture or decorative purchases within a virtual mock up of their real home and interact with these items. This goes beyond current screen-based design tools – in VR consumers will be able to interact with items and get a clear sense of how they’ll live with them once purchased. Macy’s Department Stores in the US is already offering this kind of service to their customers.

The retail world has already explored how VR will affect online shopping. In 2016, Alibaba rolled out a VR shopping experience during Single’s Day – reportedly the biggest annual online shopping event in China. Shoppers from China were able to enter American stores virtually – such as Macy’s – and interact with the products in that environment.

Alibaba launches virtual reality shopping on Single’s Day (Upload VR)

As VR shopping experiences become more commonplace the consumer will gain more agency over their consumption. We’ll be able to make informed decisions over the products we buy online, before we buy them.

5. Social Behaviours

VR has recently shown interesting possibilities for changing problematic social behaviours. This ranges from sexual harassment, unconscious bias in the workplace and racial bias.

Vantage Point has developed a virtual reality based environment for sexual harassment training within the workplace. The solution is based on the premise that the simulated environment provides a safe space in which professionals learn how to respond to and report incidents of harassment in a safe, unintimidating environment. By simulating true to life scenarios, sexual harassment training is transformed from something typically seen as a matter of compliance to one of workplace safety that is taken more seriously. Improving how we educate people about sexual harassment will undoubtedly reduce cases of harassment and make for safer workplaces.

Similarly, programmes that use VR to highlight and remove unconscious biases in the workplace are rising in popularity. New York based consultancies BCT Partners and Red Fern Consulting have partnered to launch the Through My Eyes programme which uses immersive scenarios to help employees recognise – and then change – their unconscious perceptions. The programme allows participants to walk in the shoes of victims of social biases in order to confront their own real-life discriminatory behaviours through empathy. In a world that is finally prioritising diversity in the workplace, VR is offering an innovative way to push this forward.

Virtual Reality training in the workplace (VR Focus)

Mel Slater has run a series of studies at the University of Barcelona that have shown that inherent racial bias is decreased within virtual environments. In one, participants were given implicit association tests before entering a virtual scenario in which they were immersed in a virtual body of a different race. They were given the same test after being inside the VR and participants that were put in a dark virtual body showed a marked decrease in their inherent biases. The impact of these findings could be to trigger a reduction in unconscious prejudices – leading to increased empathy towards others in the real world.

6. Social interaction

Virtual Reality technology also has the potential to transform the way we work, communicate with each other and even socialise. Using virtual reality as a new form of meeting software allows remote workers to enter virtual meeting rooms with colleagues. This will certainly enhance collaborative working by connecting regional offices and distributed workforces. Efficiency will also be boosted with the time and financial costs of commuting greatly reduced.

Similarly, virtual reality has the potential to take communication with our friends and family to the next level. Just as experiences like Skype and Facetime have revolutionised how we interact with distanced loved ones, it’s not hard to imagine keeping in touch with our friends and family within immersive settings. Because VR allows users to feel present together – no matter where they happen to be physically – these interactions will be taken to whole new levels. Couples in long-distance relationships will be able to enjoy fully interactive, involved, dates using the technology. Since shared experiences bind us to those we care about – virtual reality experiences have the potential to keep us connected to our friends and families in entirely new and powerful ways.

To that end, Facebook has dedicated an entire business unit to building immersive experiences for social life. Social VR is dedicated to creating “technologies that help people to create, share meaningful moments, and build communities using the unique qualities of this immersive new medium”. As the precarious world of established social media continues to shift – Facebook has reportedly lost 15 million users in the US since 2017 – it’s no wonder they are looking to virtual reality as the next platform for social interaction.

Virtual reality meeting (via Virtual Speech)

So there we have it, the six ways in which virtual reality will affect our lives in six years time. At OMS we look forward to continuing to do our bit in applying this technology to improve healthcare training to improve patient care worldwide.


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