The recent ‘The Promise of Immersive Healthcare’ report  by The Institute of Engineering and Technology, in partnership with Hatsumi and Immerse UK, looks at how the UK can reap the benefits of the latest healthcare innovations that use immersive technology.

Immersive technology has provided new and enhanced healthcare solutions and treatments over recent decades.  As the technology matures, there are great expectations of its potential to further promote the advancement of medicine through a wide range of new and enhanced devices and treatments.   Action is needed to release the potential of virtual reality and augmented reality to help provide enhanced healthcare services.

A recent report by PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) found that the UK has the largest immersive technology industry in the world, contributing £1.8 billion to national GDP in 2019.  Immersive healthcare technology is predicted to add £316.6 billion to global GDP in 2030, accounting for more than 22% of the industry’s total contribution.

Healthcare currently forms a small but vital part of the UK’s growing immersive technology sector and medical professionals have reported an uptake in the pace of both interest and innovation in immersive healthcare technology over the last two years.  Across the country there are at least 35 companies that generate more than half their revenue from immersive technology for the healthcare or scientific fields, with regional micro-clusters forming around Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle.  Innovative solutions that improve patient outcomes are in demand from a healthcare system under pressure from an ageing population and demands to reduce costs and boost efficiencies.

Innovate UK, the national innovation agency, has invested £2.5 billion in innovative businesses since 2007 under a matched funding scheme while the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) works to promote research and development (R&D),knowledge transfer and business innovation in healthcare amongst other fields.

Growing interest among researchers in the use of immersive technology as a tool for treating psychological disorders has triggered a new wave of spin-off products. Virtual reality has been used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among military veterans since the 1990’s and a range of VR applications that deploy exposure therapy is available to treat phobias and anxiety disorders following successful trials.  VR potential as a diagnostic tool is also growing.  For example, Cambridge University is leading on a three-year study on the use of VR to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

A key area for the application of immersive technology in healthcare is in the fields of rehabilitation and pain reduction. The quest to find new and enhanced solutions for rehabilitation using virtual reality got underway after the millennium and research and development efforts have spanned stroke recovery, motor disorders, Parkinson’s disease, brain damage and phantom limb pain.  A study in Pediatric Health, Nov 2019 has found that VR therapy significantly improves balance and mobility outcomes for children with cerebral palsy, while others reported promising results for the use of VR technology with myoelectric and motion-tracking controls in tackling treatment-resistant phantom limb pain.

Early in 2019, the UK government launched two major initiatives aimed at boosting the adoption of digital technology within the National Health Service.  The NHS Long Term Plan placed digital health services squarely in the mainstream of healthcare provision, while NHSx, the new body set up jointly with industry was tasked with setting standards and national policy for technology, digital and data in the service.  David Calder, Knowledge Transfer Manager at KTN said, “Thanks to such efforts, the NHS is starting to become an environment in which innovators and new technologies such as AR and VR can find a home.”

There are some areas entrepreneurs should consider to prepare the sort of evidence based case for adoption of their product that is expected by healthcare bodies:

  • Insight – answer the questions around ‘who is making the decision to adopt your product and what will influence their thinking?’.
  • Pathway Mapping – plotting out what is currently happening in the healthcare segment and identity the unmet need that the product is addressing.
  • Economic Evaluation – drawing on the insights and pathway mapping to create a robust business model.
  • Use of interactive decision tools to engage decision-makers because medtech products are adopted at regional level, not a national one.
  • Written publications (especially peer-reviewed articles) to influence clinicians and policymakers.

Read the Promise of Immersive Healthcare Report

Find out more about these evidence based considerations and the wider market perspective in the report here.