Big Ideas: Virtual Reality Becomes Reality

Jennifer Thew, RN, December 1, 2016

"Now we can use virtual reality for diagnosis, for treatment, and for teaching," says Alberto Odor, MD, adjunct professor for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at the University of California, Davis, and for the UC Davis School of Medicine Health Informatics Program. "I think it's going to be coming beginning next year. It's going to be coming pretty quickly because the hardware and the software are now something we can afford."

The anatomy of accessibility
Virtual reality has been around for decades, but until now its use in healthcare was not practical. "The equipment needed was expensive and very difficult to use," Odor says.

The large virtual reality system McGrath uses ran in the $30,000–$40,000 range in 2008 and was paid for with grants from the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. Now, however, the technology has started becoming more accessible and affordable.

"We can use virtual reality for diagnosis, for treatment, and for teaching. It's going to be coming pretty quickly because the hardware and the software are now something we can afford."

"A couple of years ago it became a reality because it's now possible to have high-quality virtual reality using one of the computers you use every day and equipment that is not more expensive than the price of a cell phone and a $100 viewer," Odor says.

One example is Gear VR, a wireless virtual reality headset created through a partnership between Samsung and the virtual reality company Oculus, which is owned by Facebook.

For a 360-degree virtual reality experience, users can snap their Samsung Galaxy phones into the device, which resembles a diving mask, and see the virtual world through the viewer.

With improvements in the technology's resolution, graphics, and price, Odor sees big potential for its use both in healthcare education and in the clinical realm.

In anticipation of its increased prevalence, Odor retooled his course, Virtual Reality, Simulation, and Robotics for the UC Davis 2016 fall semester, and his students will now be creating virtual reality applications during the course.

Jennifer Thew, RN

Jennifer Thew, RN is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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