By Darius Kisluk, Senior Project Coordinator – Design

Virtual reality has come a long way from its original uses in video games and military training exercises. Now this technology is used across a variety of industries: Automotive engineers use VR to check design before prototypes are made; travelers can explore locations before booking their vacations; homebuyers can tour properties. In FreemanWhite’s field of healthcare design, interactive virtual reality is the next step to achieve new avenues of design in the medical field and beyond.

Virtual reality already has myriad uses in the medical field. Medical students can use the technology to view any part of the body in CGI reconstruction and train with replicated surgical procedures. Therapists can use it to create simulations – like flying or heights – to help patients overcome their fears or to treat their PTSD. Virtual reality also has uses in pain treatment – as a distraction – and physical therapy by placing patients in a virtual environment that is fun and helps them focus.

Virtual reality is also becoming essential in healthcare design. As a provider of design and space solutions in the healthcare industry, it is important for our service to align with healthcare’s focus on efficiency, outcomes, and technology. The current feedback process between designers and clients is limited to presentation content that is difficult to understand and visualize for many clients and clinicians. While most clients and clinicians are familiar with design documents, accurately visualizing how spaces are set up can be a challenge. This can lead to costly inconsistencies in configuration and equipment placement.

Virtual reality gives healthcare providers the opportunity to walk in a space before any change, cost, or interruption is made. Using virtual reality allows our clients to “walk through” the space by placing clinicians in the proposed space. Clinicians can see if equipment is properly placed and test equipment’s range of motion to ensure it works within clinicians’ everyday experiences. Listening to their responses in the virtual spaces helps us confirm or refine features, provide real-time feedback to enhance design delivery, and minimize costly changes that might occur later in the process.

FreemanWhite has used virtual reality successfully in several projects. One such project was the addition of a hybrid operating room in a hospital in the northeast. The client requested the ability to experience the space in virtual reality to gain alignment and approval from clinical staff. Using Enscape to transfer assets from Revit and Sketchup into a virtual reality environment, both clinical and administrative staff were able to participate in the virtual walkthrough. The exercise identified the need to change the site of the control room, which was an issue the client was unable to articulate from the drawings and renderings at that point in the project. Identifying these changes before construction began helped control the time and cost associated with redesign.

Recording of an interactive experience of an operating room.

While not yet standard in healthcare design, virtual reality bridges the communication gap between what the client needs and the design before construction begins. It improves clinician buy-in by involving them early in the process to ensure the space meets their needs. By getting the client and the design team on the same page, changes that would otherwise need to be made after construction begins can be avoided, keeping the project on budget and on time.