Virtual Reality in the Time of COVID-19

April 29, 2020

With the social restrictions of COVID-19 came the societal need to virtually connect or escape the world. Through virtual reality (VR), a person can sit in their living room while digitally attending a conference, traveling to another part of the world, or playing a video game that takes place in another world altogether. While consumers may use VR to escape, businesses are using VR for training and meeting purposes. Through the pandemic, VR technology has found unprecedented use and the demand for VR headsets has grown to the point manufacturers can’t keep up. Prices for headsets have increased as stock has become nonexistent or sells out immediately.

VR Combats COVID-19

As retired health professionals or those with specialized expertise are called to serve in overwhelmed hospitals, VR is being used to train healthcare workers in areas such assessing symptoms or using protective equipment. Short on staff and time and unable to gather in groups, VR allows for personalized training in an isolated environment.

Recently, doctors at George Washington University created a VR rendering of COVID-19 inside a patient’s lungs. The rendering clearly shows the contrast of healthy lung tissue to diseased tissue and was created both to educate the public and provide a visual tool for medical professionals for better understanding of the disease.

Virtual reality arcades around the world, now absent of customers, are using their computers to run simulations to help understand and treat COVID-19.

VR Relieves Stress and Isolation

For those living with difficult diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s or chronic pain, support groups are important for stress relief. With restrictions against gathering in groups, XRHealth is providing VR support groups so patients can continue to connect with and support each other.

An Italian hospital is using VR to provide stress relief to hospital workers and staff involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. After a breathing exercise, the VR headset uses 3D imaging libraries to display the real-world location of the wearer’s chosen happy memory. The wearer then verbally and visually walks through the memory with the attending clinician.

A senior center in Reno, Nevada is also using VR for stress relief. Many residents suffer from dementia, anxiety or depression. With COVID-19 restrictions against visitation and routine outdoor excursions, residents use VR and 3D imaging to visit places around town or the setting of an old memory.

The National Health Service of the UK has rolled out a blueprint for the adoption Oxford’s VR therapy. The blueprint is meant to aid mental health services in taking steps to include VR therapy services during today’s restrictive times.

VR: Almost Like Being There

Going beyond Skype or Zoom, some classrooms are using VR to provide a more immersive experience. Students can walk around and interact within a virtual classroom, improving their engagement.

With travel restrictions, companies are using VR to perform site walkthroughs and inspections. The technology allows for a 360 degree view and provides virtual travel around the world in less time with lower cost and without the jet lag.

The fear of COVID-19 has made real estate transactions difficult as potential clients don’t want to travel or visit strange sites. Some brokers are turning to VR to allow virtual walkthroughs of homes and other locations.

Museums, parks and entertainment halls have launched virtual tours, allowing visitors to view the area from the comfort of their home, without the fear of traveling or gathering in large groups.

Some doctor’s practices are allowing VR visits for conditions that don’t require being physically seen, such as assessing allergies or rashes or discussing prescriptions. This allows patients to stay home and reduces the risk of exposure for both staff and patients.

The Future of VR After COVID-19

When businesses and travel venues reopen, it’s expected many VR implementations will stay in place while social distancing practices remain in effect. VR could aid tourist attractions in keeping crowds low and allowing those still wary of traveling to view the world at home. The Economic Times believes our quarantine-driven use for VR may remain permanent as advantages of the technology reveal themselves for education, business events and shopping.

The market for VR is expected to grow nearly 39% from 2020 to 2026, reaching $109.61 billion globally.