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The current boom in virtual reality goes beyond just immersive games and fancy goggles. Virtual reality technology is beginning to play a part in actively improving the healthcare industry.

Federal departments, state universities and community colleges are finding innovative ways to use VR technology - including simulators that create real-world situations - in healthcare. Two of these ways growing in popularity are training medical professionals, and providing clinical treatment and therapy.

Using Virtual Reality for Therapy and Clinical Studies

The University of Houston was an early adopter of the current generation of VR technology. For several years, they have operated a program that helps patients in therapy overcome addictions by immersing them in virtual scenarios.

Participants are guided through virtual environments, representing situations that may challenge someone with a particular addiction, while wearing a VR headset provided by Virtually Better, Inc.

Professor Patrick Bordnick – now the dean at the University of Tulane – pioneered the program. "This study shows us the value of using virtual reality as a tool for assessing and treating addictions,” said Bordnick. “Future studies should explore the importance of environmental settings and other cues on cravings and relapse."

Watch Professor Bordnick discuss his work using VR in his TED Talk video

Other universities and school districts are beginning to see virtual reality as the next big thing, as Mary Scott Nabers writes. Studies like this, as well as others that use VR to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, are examples of how to do it and provide something positive for the general public.

Training Healthcare Professionals with Medical Simulators

Another form of virtual reality includes simulators. Cities and schools often purchase technology and equipment to create a simulation of a real-life experience in the field – perfect for training new medical professionals.

In the last year, Onvia has tracked nearly 200 opportunities for medical simulators in our B2G Intelligence System (B2GIS). These contracts came from a wide range of government agencies, from federal departments to local colleges.

One recent example found in Onvia’s data came from Front Range Community College in Colorado, which in Dec. 2016 awarded a $55,000 contract to Simulator Solutions, LLC for an ambulance simulator. The product allows a medical trainee to practice in a real-world environment, and allows for feedback and performance review from an instructor.

This example shows that virtual reality runs across a broader spectrum than just the latest high-tech devices, like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Simulators are becoming an in-demand product that many small-to-midsize businesses can help provide to local schools and governments.

The Outlook for Virtual Reality in 2017

Widespread adoption of virtual reality has been talked about in the technology industry for decades, but the current iteration of VR appears to have more staying power. Major tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Sony (with its Playstation VR) have already launched or are developing their own devices, games and applications. Modern VR ranges from fancy headsets costing hundreds of dollars, to the inexpensive options for personal use like Google Cardboard, to the complex simulators used to represent real-world situations.

As more money is invested in virtual reality, innovative universities, schools, states and counties will continue finding ways to implement VR technology. The healthcare industry, as well as the general public, stand to benefit.

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