Virtual Reality is already used in many industries, from gaming and tourism to construction. However, VR Healthcare will gain considerable importance in the coming years.
Virtual reality today is far more than just a new form of entertainment. According to a recent study by research and consulting firm IndustryARC, augmented reality and virtual reality technologies in healthcare will generate a global market of approximately $2.54 billion by 2020.
They will increasingly be used in a wide range of medical applications, from treatment to training. This is made possible in particular by the decreasing costs of hardware and application development, as well as the increasing interest of physicians in the possibilities of the new technology in different areas.
VR Healthcare in medical education
One of the greatest challenges in medical education is to provide medical students with practical experience during their studies and at the same time not to endanger patient safety. One way to achieve this is to use VR Healthcare in the form of simulation systems.
VR’s Healthcare Revolution: Transforming Medical Training at CHLA (Source: Oculus)
With such systems it is possible to dive into a realistic simulation without having to train on the direct patient. Students can practice all necessary steps and techniques, with direct feedback in their field of vision. What has been done so far via training videos or observing the specialists can be done directly on the object. The opportunity to repeat the scenarios and thus work on the continuous improvement of his skills enables future doctors to work on their training far beyond the lecture hall.
Help with phobias and fears
The treatment of phobias is one of the most established forms of VR medical treatment. According to a study by the University of Oxford, virtual reality simulation of crowded subways and elevators can reduce the feeling of paranoia among those who find it difficult to function in similar situations in the real world.
VR for paranoia (Source: University of Oxford)
This type of treatment is called step-by-step exposure therapy. In it, the patient is slowly led to her anxiety by a therapist. Virtual reality is perfectly suited for this because VR applications can be perfectly adapted to the individual needs and progress of the patient. Up to now, for example, paranoia, vertigo or fear of spiders have been treated successfully. But the technology also helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder to recover.
Virtual Reality for pain treatment
More than two-thirds of people who had to be medically removed suffer from phantom pain. The amputee experiences severe pain in the region of the limbs, which they have lost, sometimes to the extent that they interfere with sleep or everyday functions or make it impossible in severe cases.
“Even though a person who had a hand amputated can no longer see it, in many cases he or she can still feel it. This sensory conflict may be interpreted by the brain as pain. With this new method we try to overcome that conflict by providing an artificial visual and tactile feedback and in that way suppress the pain.” -- Bo Geng, Aalborg University in Denmark
Researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have found a way to help alleviate pain. They placed electrodes on the rest of the patient’s missing arm. The patient was then fitted with a VR headset to see the arm that drives a steering wheel while virtually driving a car. The results showed that this simulation of the arm helped the patient to feel less pain or to be completely painless over longer distances.
Virtual reality is also used in other situations for pain relief. For example, some dentists use virtual reality during treatment to distract the patient and inform him/her about current interventions, if desired.
Although its use in the medical world is still far from mainstream, VR has found its way into medical applications. In a few years’ time, virtual reality will shape the health care system and provide comprehensive support for physicians and patients.
Post picture: Medical Futurist