Dr. Michael Aratow, chief medical information officer at San Mateo Medical Center, caught the virtual reality bug decades ago.

He’s been hooked on the idea that interactive computer-generated simulations could transform medical care. But now that the hardware is more affordable and the software is easier to use, he’s finally able to start experimenting around the hospital.

With the support of our Technology Hub, virtual reality (VR) is being tested in the (1) pain management clinic, (2) emergency department, and (3) integrated behavioral health clinic. And after a successful year-long pilot, the pain management clinic has reached an important milestone — it has officially adopted VR treatment, integrating it into business operations for long-term use.

“That’s what everyone dreams about — for some cool and new innovative project that actually is practical, and it works,” said Aratow. “You want to have good patient satisfaction, you want to have improved costs, you want to have better outcomes, and you also want to have staff satisfaction. I think the metrics are aligning from what we’re seeing. It’s still early days, but I think that we’re heading in that direction definitely.”

VR is a technology that immerses a user in a computer generated environment through a visual display and headphones which block out the real world.  The visual display has position tracking so that when you move or turn your head, the computer generated environment moves as if you were physically present within it. Virtual reality has been used for entertainment, education and simulation, but there are new uses for this technology appearing as it matures.