The healthcare industry is entering a new and exciting phase where services will be optimized by advancements in technology. Both medical professionals and patients will benefit from the improvements that are afforded by technology (making a future visit to the hospital seem more like a sci-fi experience).
The eHealth app market is already a booming industry, so the next step was to introduce devices to enhance its features. Gadgets like Oculus Rift will essentially revolutionize healthcare by fusing virtual reality (VR) with reality when it comes to diagnosis, training, and treatment. The market already has other VR headsets like Google Cardboard, Gear VR, and VRONE, so you can also expect competition to heat up while making these devices cheaper.
Hospitals in particular have already started working with developers to create immersive VR content. From the Miami Children’s Hospital to the University of Louisville, scientists and developers have been working for years to make this possible. The opportunities that VR brings to healthcare are limitless and we are just at its inception.
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VR and Therapy
One of the latest VR therapies being tested out is therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Medical professionals have been testing the therapeutic benefits of incorporating VR for more than 15 years, but it’s only recently that the idea has become more feasible.
Although more research is needed before it becomes a common aspect of PTSD therapy, recent tests using virtual reality simulations have proved to be positive. Studies have found that veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are able to better deal with traumatic events with the help of VR in a controlled environment.
These applications essentially try to help desensitize and manage the trauma through repeated exposure in a safe environment. They contain various virtual scenarios that will be similar to the veteran’s experiences. In addition to the visuals, there will also be auditory stimuli along with smells and vibrations, making the experience seem very real. Further, it has also been hypothesized that young veterans who grew up playing video games would be more comfortable with VR therapies as opposed to talk therapies.
VR is also being tested out for treatments of phobias via exposure therapy. Common fears such as claustrophobia and flying can now be experienced and overcome in a safe and controlled environment. The benefit here is that one can easily stop and repeat the processes making the necessary adjustments to achieve the final goal.
The University of Washington developed a game called SnowWorld to help burn victims cope with the pain. The game involves throwing snowballs at penguins and is played to a soundtrack provided by Paul Simon. This form of distraction has helped patients alleviate a little pain that is always excruciating during physical therapy or when a wound is being dressed. It’s an alternative to morphine and one that is sure to be explored further. Training with VR is the future of medical education and such new techniques essentially have immense potential to not only improve the quality of education, but also save lives.
VR and Medical Training
Medical students at Stanford University are already being trained with a surgery simulator which also includes haptic feedback. What was once a process where a cadaver was the only option, this type of exercise is a welcomed alternative. Further, the endoscopic sinus surgery simulation at Stanford also uses CT scans to build 3D models for the students to practice on.
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They have been doing this since 2002, so they were not equipped with VR headsets or goggles. However, it shouldn’t be too long before Stanford takes the next step to further enhance their virtual simulations.
VR and Stress Management
The guided meditation app from Cubicle Ninja is now being used to take the stress and fear out of the clinical experience. So with Oculus Rift, you can essentially put yourself on your favorite vacation spot, whether it’s a beach or on a mountain top, and forget about the hospital (for a while). This application was specifically designed to reduce stress both pre-surgery and post-surgery. It also revolutionizes waiting rooms by making it much more exciting and pleasant.
It is scientifically proven that a happier positive mind is healthier and helps speed up the healing process. So it will be interesting to see the long term benefits of VR’s potential realized on a massive scale.
Virtual reality devices have an endless potential to not only boost healthcare, but also improve the lives of the elderly and the disabled. What one can’t do in reality, can be done in VR and this enables individuals to have more opportunities and a better life.