The Potential of Virtual Reality in Healthcare

Most of the people outside of the tech world I’ve talked to about Virtual Reality usually consider it to be a tool exclusively for Gaming. Many would see themselves wearing a VR headset solely for entertainment purposes.
But do those limits really exist?

VR Gaming in real life.

For several years developers have been exploring the possibilities of using VR apps and software for medical purposes. Today we’ll explore some of its main innovations and prove that Healthcare + VR is an area with incredible possibilities.

Medical Training in VR

Experts say that in the future more and more surgeons will exercise various medical procedures in Virtual Reality, and students will be able to learn from the professionals even outside of the hospitals. 
The first operation that was performed with a VR camera happened in 2016, by Dr. Shafi Ahmed (Royal London Hospital)— a famous cancer surgeon. It was streamed live as a 360-degree video, so medical students, trainee surgeons and curious members of the public could immerse themselves in the procedure in real time via the Medical Realities website.

Virtual reality could, and will, change the teaching and learning experience in medicine for good. Today, it’s still considered to be a rare opportunity for students to assist a professional surgeon during an operation. With a VR camera, surgeons will allow medical students from all over the world to actually be in the OR by just using their VR headset.

VR Therapy

Virtual reality therapy uses VR technology for psychological and occupational treatment, where patients navigate through digital environments and try to complete specific tasks, aiming to treat various ailments.

It’s already widely used and tested as:

  • Helping chronic patients psychologically during their treatment.
    “Virtual worlds” are proven to help patients in releasing stress and reducing constant pain, giving them a needed distraction, that they could focus on instead of, sometimes depressing, hospital environment. It could be traveling to beautiful countries, swimming and even creating art in VR. All of it won’t make the costs of care higher, but, on the contrary, reduce it, while significantly improving the overall experience of the patients, both children and adults.
Cedars-Sinai is conducting new research into the potential therapeutic value of virtual reality for patients.

One of my favorite examples in this field has to be the Dutch project VisitU (click for the link), that can broadcast Live from a 360 degree camera at the patient’s school, house or a special event like a birthday celebration, all directly to the child’s smartphone, so he/she feels fully at home even outside of home.

• Alternative to exposure therapy: VR is providing the interaction with harmless virtual representations of traumatic stimuli in order to reduce fear responses.

An example of anti-acrophobia (fear of heights) VR treatment.

• Helping stroke patients regain muscle control.
The treatment methods improve functioning, reduce pain, and enhance daily living. A combination of VR and physical therapy improve the overall patient’s mobility while using the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment.

  • Treating body dysmorphia— a mental disorder characterized by an obsessive preoccupation that some aspect of one’s own appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it.
    Virtual treatments give sufferers a better idea of how to experience their bodies in the real world. Other researchers have attempted to modify body sensation through sensory stimulation using a neoprene suit.
  • Improving social skills in those diagnosed with autism - a developmental condition that leads to difficulties in communication with other people, struggle with social interaction and confusion by the environment. Especially autistic children would often find it difficult to process facial expressions, pick up the visual cues or pay attention to another person during a dialogue.
    An example of this VR therapy: showing a classroom with a set of 3D virtual people/avatars, where every child, one by one, is delivering a presentation. But each face starts to fade if the child looks away or loses interest, which would motivate him/her to be more concentrated on one object at a time.
• • •

Did any of those innovations in healthcare surprise you?
Where else do you think VR could be used for, except for Gaming industry?