Overview: Virtual Reality in Medicine

Claudio Pensieri, Maddalena Pennacchini


Background: Virtual Reality (VR) was defined as a collection of technological devices: “a computer capable of interactive 3D visualization, a head-mounted display and data gloves equipped with one or more position trackers”. Today, lots of scientists define VR as a simulation of the real world based on computer graphics, a three dimensional world in which communities of real people interact, create content, items and services, producing real economic value through e-Commerce.

Objective: To report the results of a systematic review of articles and reviews published about the theme: “Virtual Reality in Medicine”.

Methods: We used the search query string: “Virtual Reality”, “Metaverse”, “Second Life”, “Virtual World”, “Virtual Life” in order to find out how many articles were written about these themes. For the “Meta-review” we used only “Virtual Reality” AND “Review”. We searched the following databases: Psycinfo, Journal of Medical Internet Research, Isiknowledge till September 2011 and Pubmed till February 2012. We included any source published in either print format or on the Internet, available in all languages, and containing texts that define or attempt to define VR in explicit terms.

Results: We retrieved 3,443 articles on Pubmed in 2012 and 8,237 on Isiknowledge in 2011. This large number of articles covered a wide range of themes, but showed no clear consensus about VR. We identified 4 general uses of VR in Medicine, and searched for the existing reviews about them. We found 364 reviews in 2011, although only 197 were pertinent to our aims: 1. Communication Interface (11 Reviews); 2. Medical Education (49 reviews); 3. Surgical Simulation (49 Reviews) and 4. Psychotherapy (88 Reviews).

Conclusion: We found a large number of articles, but no clear consensus about the meaning of the term VR in Medicine. We found numerous articles published on these topics and many of them have been reviewed. We decided to group these reviews in 4 areas in order to provide a systematic overview of the subject matter, and to enable those interested to learn more about these particular topics.


Virtual Reality, Virtual Worlds, Virtual Life, Communication, Psychotherapy, Surgical Education, Medical Education.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.4101/jvwr.v7i1.6364

The full website for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research can be found at http://jvwr.net