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5 Ways to Make a Business Case for Virtual Reality in Healthcare

There were roughly 90 first-year medical students that had gathered in the lab. The instructor was about to take them through their first dissection in a human anatomy course. For most students, this was the first time they were seeing a medical procedure up close.

Traditionally, this class would be taught live and in-person. A smaller number of students would crowd around the operating table and peer over their instructor’s shoulder.

Some would have a good view, while others wouldn’t. When the session was over, that was the end of it. Students couldn’t go back and review the class again. Coordinating the lab, equipment and cadavers for such a class is done months in advance and needs considerable planning.

This class, however, would be different. The procedure was real, only it was recorded earlier using a 360-degree camera. There wasn’t just one camera but several, each providing a view of the procedure from a different and intimate angle. These immersive views make it feel to the students as if they are in the operating room with their instructor.

To participate, students put on virtual reality (VR) goggles and choose the view that works best for them. They could “look” around the room, ask questions, and generally interact, rather than merely being passive observers. If they were wearing VR gloves, which use sophisticated haptics to bring the sensation of touch, they could pick up instruments and “feel” them.

The VR learning environment is rich and immersive. It gives every student a personalized and active experience they get to help shape. Best of all, when the lecture is over, if students miss something or want to review the material again, they could take the same class as many times as they want.

Beyond medical school – continuing education

It’s not just universities and medical students that are embracing VR technology for learning. A growing number of hospitals are using it for continuing education:

  • A highly specialized surgeon at a hospital in the western U.S. is piloting “virtual preceptorships” to teach other surgeons how to perform an innovative procedure that micro-sutures nerve endings – and restores a sense of feeling;
  • A major teaching hospital in New York City is using VR to train residents on both hard and soft skills – when it’s convenient for them; and
  • Hospitals across the U.S., Europe and Asia have developed realistic simulations that can certify providers to perform advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), peritoneal dialysis, or even develop strategies for managing aggression in the emergency room.

Indeed, VR seems to have considerable momentum in the healthcare community. A recent survey of healthcare professionals in the U.S., found:

  • 85% consider themselves familiar with immersive training tools;
  • 64% say there is more interest in immersive tech today than three years ago
  • 77% note their healthcare organization has implemented (34%) VR technology – or plan to (43%).

Despite the enthusiasm for VR in healthcare, the same survey found the top barrier to the adoption of the technology is budget (46%). While it’s true that VR does require some initial budget to get set up, it’s more cost-effective than conventional methods of training in the long run.

Five ways to make the business case for VR in healthcare

A classic framework for building a business case for technology is cost reduction and avoidance. That’s when a tool requires investment to get started – but yields cost savings as it becomes adopted. In other words, sometimes you have to spend money to save money.

To that end, below are some of the business arguments that providers, who are championing VR in their organization, use to make a case.

1. VR training reduces the cost of travel, venue, equipment and actors
Training is expensive in any industry and more so in healthcare because of its nature. While the cost of travel is universal, healthcare training often entails a specialized venue, like a laboratory, equipment, such as instruments and manikins, and actors for training scenarios when “standardized patients” are used to provide realistic training.

All of these line items are expensive. For example, tactile manikins can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. VR eliminates, or substantially reduces, these costs once a simulation is created. The better VR platforms offer “no code” tools that are easy to use and do not require technical skills to operate.

2. VR training reduces the time necessary to plan and execute training
There is a shortage of healthcare workers, which means most healthcare facilities are running at high staff utilization. Burnout is rampant. A big city teaching hospital can’t simply shut down and require its 80 anesthesiology residents to attend training.

It’s not any easier for the trainers. Often training sessions, particularly the variety that replicate high-stress emergency scenarios, must be planned ahead and are time-intensive to produce.

VR will require the same level of effort to create the simulation – but once it’s made – scheduling is easy. Trainees can take the course at a time that best suits their needs. And it frees trainers to spend time on higher-value tasks, such as improving the course materials.

3. VR training provides reusable courses 
One of the biggest benefits of VR simulations is the reusable nature of the content. Once a simulation is created in VR, it can be experienced repeatedly, which provides learning through repetition. The economics are clear too: the more trainees, learners or students that take a course in VR, the lower the cost of that training per student.

4. VR training improves clinical performance
VR provides a deeply immersive learning environment. Trainees aren’t just listening to a lecture – they have a chance to be an active participant. Many healthcare professionals I’ve spoken with who have used VR for training purposes say it’s often better than real life.

Studies show immersive simulations enable learners to pick up new information faster and retain more of it. In the aforementioned survey, respondents said VR improves clinical performance.

This isn’t an isolated finding. A peer-reviewed paper that examined 11 studies of VR use in healthcare concluded that “Nine out of eleven medical education-based studies have shown positive outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills, confidence, and empathy. Besides this, VR has emerged as a promising tool for the clinical care of patients.”

5. VR training could be a source of healthcare revenue
Some enterprising medical doctors are considering VR as a potential revenue source. For example, the aforementioned surgeon who is piloting "virtual preceptorships," is also pondering how she might turn those into a premium virtual course.

That idea could lead to similar courses from other specialists being developed and offered through a premium virtual “library” of procedures.

Providers speak out on VR in their own words

One final point in building a business case for anything that’s new or emerging is to keep an open mind. To that end, the final question of the survey mentioned previously asked respondents this question: “If you could make one recommendation to your leadership about the use of immersive technologies what would you say?”

More than 80 respondents wrote in open-ended comments. “It would cut my time in training down to an ultimate low. Can repeat certain things or situations,” wrote one respondent. “It would help us attract new grads and have us both feel they are ready after training,” said another. “This is a cost-effective way of getting things done, and it will save our organization a lot of money,” concluded a third.


This article was written by Luke Willett from MedCity News and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to

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