Virtual Reality Technology in the Healthcare
From pacemakers to thought-controlled artificial limbs, technology and medicine have worked hand in hand to bring humanity some of the most significant advances in healthcare throughout history. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality in healthcare is proving to be no different. The last decade has brought mixed reality from sci-fi dreams to actual reality. High-resolution headset displays, pinpoint accurate motion sensors, and lightning-fast graphics processors are making medical experts and doctors rethink how to use the practical, and urgently needed applications for this emerging technology.
Virtual Reality for Medical Education and Training
Today, medical students are finding themselves in front of a computer reading digital documents and instructional papers just as much as practicing actual medical procedures during their residency. In fact, surgical doctors are finding it difficult to gain real experience performing more than the hundred or so surgical procedures that were once required to complete their degree. This means that many (if not most) recent graduates will be performing these procedures without experience and, in some cases, without proper guidance.
This is a huge problem that many universities and hospitals are facing, and some are looking to Virtual Reality as a vital part of the solution. While not the same experience as working on a cadaver or live patient, virtual surgery applications like Osso VR, can provide the resident a guided experience learning the proper protocols and steps of a real procedure. They can also offer analytics and proficiency ratings as feedback to the students and instructors. In some applications, an experienced doctor or instructor is in the virtual space explaining the procedure and answering questions.
For med students and nursing students alike, patient care and bedside manner are critical to successful recovery for any patient, so there are trials of patient care VR programs being tested today. These applications help students react to realistic situations with patients. Traditionally, this experience is gained from an expensive simulation bot or hired actors pretending to be sick or injured, training practices that are both costly and time-consuming to prepare. VR allows the student to enter a patient’s room easily. VR as an instructional tool provides students with an interactive and fully immersive way to understand complicated DNA structures, nervous systems with 3D models. This same concept is helping surgeons prepare for procedures by interacting with 3D models created from actual MRI and CAT scans and with much more detail.
PTSD/Trauma Treatment Virtual Reality Example
For PTSD and trauma victims, exposure therapy is a proven form of treatment with years of studies behind it. It works by recreating the experiences which triggered one’s trauma which can help the brain mitigate the anxiety brought on by these experiences. Traditionally, this is done two ways:
- By having the patient recall these scenarios by memory and imagine different outcomes, this is called Imagine Exposure (or)
- Vivo Exposure, where the patients face their fears in real life, for instance, someone who have a phobia of snakes, is encouraged to handle one.¹These treatments are only introduced after the patent has developed tools to tolerate such scenarios and are required to overcome milestones of treatment before entering into this stage.
Researchers are testing VR as an alternative way to overcome fear by exposing patients to virtual scenarios. Virtual Reality offers a way for trauma patients to relive negative experiences and create new memories with logical outcomes. The emotional and sensory realism virtual reality provides increases the patients’ emotional response significantly and is proving to be highly effective. Currently, war veterans suffering from PTSD are being treated with VR by recreating scenarios that triggered their trauma, allowing them to make a different decision in those scenarios. These soldiers are placed in an environment that stimulates combat scenarios and implements sounds and even smells to help trigger emotional responses. So far, VR is only being used in some of the final stages of treatment as specialists want to ensure that the patients are not traumatized by being placed in traumatic situations.
VR Use Case for Pain Management
Another surprising virtual reality use case involves pain management. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, medical experts and doctors have been looking for alternative ways to treat pain for their patients. This therapy is being seen as particularly helpful for post-op patients and both acute and chronic pain sufferers like burn victims, but it is also being tested for its efficacy for a standard dental visit or booster shot. Researchers believe that VR therapy works by focusing attention away from the pain with immersive 360 visuals and sounds. Another theory is that VR therapy produces analgesia, or desensitization of pain, through activating attention, emotion, memory, and other senses.
Cognifisense and Applied VR are medical tech firms currently developing VR and other immersive technologies as an effective way to manage pain for chronic sufferers. They have found that VR can temporarily alter the brain’s perception of pain and reduce “pain-related activity in all five regions of the brain associated with pain.”² Though their technology and medical experts provide clinical data and studies, immersive VR applications could end the need for opioids in medicine.
VR as a medical tool is still being researched, but these studies are showing evidence for providing healthcare an effective way to make us healthier and healthcare workers more successful in healing patients. It is also challenging for experts to look at how our bodies and mind reacts to non-traditional treatments. Though VR was introduced decades ago as a form of entertainment, these practical and potentially life-saving applications prove its true potential.
New Era Technology Can Help!
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