The trajectory of virtual reality in healthcare marketing


Leading healthcare marketers know that they need to up their game. The irony is that while there have never been more ways to reach consumers, it’s also harder to cut through the noise and connect with them.

Rather than creating passive (often ignored) ads, VR is being adopted by marketers as a powerful storytelling tool to connect with consumers on a whole new level by offering them fresh, engaging and memorable new experiences.

The Industry
The Virtual Reality industry is poised to be an 80 billion market by 2025. Deloitte Global predicts that VR will have its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content. This breaks down into two main types of VR devices: ‘full feature’ and ‘mobile’.

“Full feature” incorporates high-resolution screens. ‘Mobile VR’ incorporates a smartphone’s screen into a special case, enabling the headset to fit snugly on the user’s head. Google was one of the first companies to combine VR and mobile with Google Cardboard. It allowed users to download an app, plug their phones into a cardboard “VR Headset” and take photos.

Healthcare VR
VR is an emerging tool that will transform the healthcare landscape. It is a new and exciting technology with the power to improve clinical outcomes, deliver innovative new therapies, better train healthcare professionals and reshape the patient experience.

For healthcare marketers tasked with creating stronger brands, stronger bonds and stronger businesses, we’re focusing here on VR as it relates to transforming the lives of patients.

Here are seven ways virtual reality can achieve this (by preparing, preventing, providing therapy and follow-up):

1. Give consumers a behind-the-scenes look
Virtual Reality can provide a unique, behind-the-scenes look at new initiatives going on at the organization, facility or service line level. For our client Reading Health System, Trajectory developed a VR experience as part of a larger marketing program to introduce Reading HealthPlex for Advanced Surgical & Inpatient Care. As one of the most transformative facilities of its kind in PA and in the nation, we wanted an equally transformational way to introduce this game-changing facility to internal and external audiences.

2. Making children feel like they’re home
The hospital experience is particularly tough for kids who miss their parents, their best friends and their comforting home environment. Now, a Dutch company provides a virtual remedy. Through a smartphone and virtual glasses, VisitU makes live contact possible with a 360 degree camera at the patient’s home, school or special occasions such as a birthday celebration or a football game. Though hospitalized, young patients can still connect and enjoy their lives.

3. Improved patient education
One of many examples is about what will actually happen in a clinical trial. The clinical research organization Quintiles will use VR for recruitment of patients into clinical trials, taking the prospective patient through the journey of learning about what’s involved in the clinical trial and what will actually happen.

4. Helping to ease phobias
Virtual reality is being used in controlled environments to force patients to physically confront that which they fear the most – in order to ease or completely cure phobias. With 4-5% of Americans suffering from a clinically significant phobia, the opportunity is significant. The Virtual Reality Medical Center has been offering VR treatments for specific phobias such as fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of thunderstorms, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, social phobia, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder due to motor vehicle accidents.

5. Speeding recovery after a stroke
For patients who survived a stroke or traumatic brain injury, time is of the essence. The earlier they start rehabilitation, the better chances they have for successfully regaining lost functions. MindMotionPro, produced by the Swiss Mindmaze allows patients to “practice” how to lift their arms or move their fingers with the help of virtual reality. Although they might not carry out the actual movement, the app enhances attention, motivation and engagement with visual and auditory feedback. The resulting mental effort helps their traumatized nervous systems to recover much faster than lying helplessly in bed. Along these same lines, the use of VR in physical therapy has yielded studies with some very encouraging results, demonstrating a clear link between the effectiveness that the duo might be able to provide.

6. Powering Patients
USC Center for Body Computing, is leading several initiatives to make virtual and mixed reality more patient friendly. The center’s Virtual Care Clinic system features an app that connects patients to medical expertise similar to what they would receive at the doctor’s office. It has helped develop prototypes and create market-ready health management solutions that “allow every patient, athlete, warfighter and veteran to obtain the most contextualized and individualized information and care anywhere, anytime.”

7. Relaxing chronic patients
When you’re in a hospital, time seems to stand still. There’s little to do, except miss your family and friends, and worry about your condition. Brennan Spiegel and his team at the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles introduced VR worlds to their patients to help them release stress and reduce pain. Through VR, they could escape the four walls of the hospital and visit landscapes in Iceland, participate in the work of an art studio or swim alongside whales in the ocean. Spiegel says that “not only can the hospital experience be improved with medical VR, but the costs of care may also be reduced. By reducing stress and pain, the length of the patient’s stay or the amount of resources utilized can both be decreased.”

Our Take
VR is booming. And there’s no indication that its trajectory will slow. There are a few reasons why:

1. It can easily be integrated with consumer’s mobile devices.

2. Instead of same-as-everyone-else passive ads, it’s a powerful experience-based storytelling tool that can captivate and engage healthcare consumers as they feel like they’re part of the story.

3. Beyond delivering a better story, it’s also a tool to deliver exceptional “value” to patients and physicians, and competitive advantage to organizations.

Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, a brand and marketing firm specializing in creating momentum for businesses across the health + wellness continuum. The common threads are consumers who want to get well, stay well and play well, and brands that fulfill these aspirations and goals.

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