Virtual reality (VR) has come a long way from simply providing an interactive computer-generated experience for 3D cinema goers and gamers. Today, it can be said that one of the biggest adopters of virtual reality is none other than the Healthcare industry. It is because VR also comprises of phobia treatment, surgery simulation, robotic surgery and skills training. It is fair to say this technology has enabled healthcare professionals to enhance their existing skills and even learn new ones in a safe environment without causing any danger to patients’ health.
It is an interactive computer-generated experience that takes place in a simulated environment that incorporates different types of sensory feedback such as visual, auditory, and haptic. VR provides an immersive environment to the user that is quite similar to the real world, or it can be unrestrained imagination –something that cannot be experienced in the real world. From robotics to psychology, VR is being used for educational purposes, training purposes, and health purposes.
VR technology has certainly thrived over recent years and though it is making a huge impact on various other industries, it is playing a pivotal role where it matters the most – healthcare. According to experts in healthcare, VR has such tremendous promise that its use will increase over the next 10 years in various applications such as indirect patient care, simulation, and medical education (for providers and patients).
On 14th April 2016, the world’s first virtual reality surgery was broadcasted from The Royal London Hospital. Dr Shafi Ahmed performed a VR surgery with the help of a series of camera and two 360-degree cameras to remove a tumour from a cancer patient’s bowels . For many, the live broadcasting of the surgery will open new doors for VR in the healthcare industry. It is expected that VR will help healthcare in generating £2 billion globally by 2020 .
VR was mostly associated with the entertainment genre, but times have changed. Today, VR technology is recognised for making significant improvements in the lives of many people suffering from various chronic pain, autism, and health conditions. Needless to say, VR is successfully changing the face of healthcare with some of the most result-oriented virtual solutions. Here is how VR technology is used in healthcare:
Inarguably, many patients have to deal with some of the most unbearable chronic or reoccurring pain which can be caused due to post-surgery or any other chronic condition. It is observed that virtual reality helps in providing pain relief because when a person is immersed in a VR experience, the parts of the brain that are responsible for recognising pain are less active. VR is used in a wide variety of medical procedures to manage pain and distress. Studies have found that a participant who is immersed in a VR experience shows a desire to use VR again due to its effect in managing chronic pain and general distress .
An example can be given of ‘Phantom pain” which is experienced by many amputees in the area where a limb is missing. This type of pain is difficult to treat, but VR therapy actually helped in providing relief by enabling the patients to control a virtual version of their missing limb.
One of the most popular uses of VR in healthcare is virtual robotic surgery. As the name suggests, a human-controlled robotic device is used to perform a surgery. The use of VR becomes handier in the field of remote telesurgery – the doctor who is performing the surgery is not physically present in the same location.
What makes VR so important is its force feedback feature that assists the surgeon in gauging the amount of pressure to use during a delicate procedure. It goes without saying that VR has transformed the way in which surgical operations can be performed.
According to the report on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 160 children have ASD, which begins mostly in childhood . There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, but healthcare specialists believe that virtual reality can help in improving an autistic person’s social interactions and communication abilities.
Autism therapy is used to have a calming effect on the person. As of now, the therapy comprises in-person sessions with the doctor. With the help of VR technology, the trips to a doctor’s office can be significantly reduced.
There are about 135 million people globally affected by low vision . It is a visual impairment that can be caused by a disorder, disease (e.g. diabetes) or an eye-affecting injury. The issue with low vision is that it affects a patient’s ability to do tasks and cannot be corrected with eyeglasses, medicine or surgery.
Until now, there was no cure for low vision and the patient had to live with it for all his/her life. However, the incorporation of virtual reality in the treatment of low vision has helped remarkably in improving the sight of a low vision patient. In this process, the desired object is magnified in the visual scene for the patient. It is ensured that the patient does not lose their awareness of the surrounding environment. The patient has the liberty to choose the magnification level, ambient level, contrast, and text position as per his/her needs and perform various eye-hand coordinated activities with fair ease.
People who are affected by a traumatic brain injury often find it difficult to complete everyday tasks due to imbalance and control. VR helps these people by creating a virtual environment where they can perform different tasks and practice them.
Patients are given VR headsets to start the recovery process. If a patient is suffering from an affected limb, VR is used to trick the patient’s mind in such a way that it starts visualising various movements such as grasping or reaching out to something. The use of VR helps in teaching the brain to recover faster by using the affected limbs.
One of the best uses of VR is in the treatments of overcoming fears and phobias. For years, therapists have treated their patients with graded-exposed therapy that slowly introduces a patient to his/her fears in a hope to overcome it. The issue with conventional therapy is that it takes time and can be costly for the patient as well.
VR technology took this treatment to next level by helping patients face and overcome their fears in immersive environments. Let it be fear of heights or spiders, VR technology can help a person in overcoming his/her fears.
From rehabilitation to brain damage evaluation, to helping housebound people, virtual reality is playing a major role in healthcare. VR’s immersive technology is becoming a revolutionary solution to cases where many orthodox treatment methods fail. In addition to all this, VR provides a safe and affordable avenue for patients to explore for their treatments.
All in all, it can be said with a certain confidence that virtual reality is the future of the healthcare industry. It seems evident that VR will grow with time and the healthcare industry is not going to move forward without its help. What are your thoughts, and would you be open to trying virtual reality as a treatment for conditions or phobias? Let us know!
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