There’s no doubt that virtual reality’s claim to fame lies in the entertainment and gaming world. That being said, VR and related technologies have made quite an impression in other areas and industries of our day-to-day lives. Ever since the Oculus Rift 3D was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2012, VR technologies have developed exponentially and become more accessible to the average consumer. Today, VR is being used in everything from marketing for business growth to education in primary schools. One of the often overlooked yet more incredible fields that VR shows potential in is the medical field. Virtual reality has greatly benefitted medical care, and as simulated technologies continue to develop, the possibilities for using VR in the medical field are endless. Here are three of the major ways in which virtual reality is transforming medical care:
Rehabilitation and Therapy
Using VR in rehabilitation has proven to be extremely effective. While there’s still a long way to go in terms of validating all the findings so far, the results so far are giant strides in the world of rehab and therapy. For example, one study of stroke patients showed that VR rehab led to more improvements in arm and hand movement compared to conventional rehab after four weeks of therapy. Not only does rehab show potential in the physical therapy field, but it’s utility in terms of mental-rehabilitation should not be overlooked.
According to Skip Rizzo, Team Director of the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, “VR is an evocative technology. It can bring out emotions that sometimes can’t come out in other ways. This is where VR shines. You can put people in simulations that bring up an emotion, and then teach them ways to deal with that emotion in an appropriate fashion.” In this way, virtual reality is useful in treating PTSD, especially in conjunction with counseling. The lab’s projects even include cognitive rehab after medical conditions like strokes, as well as teaching people with autism certain social skills.
You might have heard of the famous live streaming of a cancer-based medical procedure which was recorded in live 360-degree video while 13,000 medical students from all around the world tuned in to watch and learn. Virtual reality provides an effective platform to teach complicated procedures, reaching thousands of people at one go. The surgeon in charge of this procedure was Professor Shafi Ahmed, who is one of the pioneers in successful medical virtual reality. 360-degree video and cancer-procedures are not the only type of education that can be spread through VR.
Technology from Embodied Labs allows medical students to better understand the process of aging. One of their simulations called “We Are Alfred” gives a realistic perspective on aging, macular degeneration, and hearing loss. The VR technology takes users through simulations at the doctor’s office, as well as tackles the emotional aspects of aging, and the repercussions on caregiving on familial relationships. Another noteworthy example comes via researchers at the Allen Institute for Cell Science. There, scientists have created the first predictive 3D model of a live human cell, enabling them to thoroughly visualize and manipulate cell behavior over a computer screen. With developments like these, VR is changing the nature of medical education.
VR has proven to be extremely useful in helping with pain relief. For those patients who are unable to use an anesthetic, especially those who are elderly or in weak health, virtual reality comes as a much-appreciated alternative. Due to it’s immersive nature, doctors are now experimenting with virtual reality as a way to control pain during minimally invasive procedures. The results have been positive.
Additionally, virtual reality aids in decreasing anxiety in patients who are about to go through a strenuous medical procedure, enabling them to feel at ease in simulated peaceful environments. For example, a company called Surgical Theater creates technologies for patients to understand what lies ahead. Used for surgeries involving the brain, the VR imagery is an avatar wearing a lab coat who explains to patients how various parts of their brain function. Also, patients are able to see what procedure is needed to deal with their medical condition, enabling them to feel calmer before the actual procedure actually begins.
In addition to the areas detailed above, virtual reality has been used within the medical field in many different ways — from planning complex operations to treating bipolar disorder. As VR technologies develop and become more accessible around the world, there is no doubt that VR will globally transform medical care.
About the Author
Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn't frantically updating his news feeds, Noah likes to shut off his devices, head to the beach and read detective novels from the 1930s.