Virtual Health: How Much Do You Know About VR’s Impact on Medicine?

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Virtual Health: How Much Do You Know About VR’s Impact on Medicine?

Virtual Reality (VR) is becoming increasingly well known in the gaming circles, but did you know that it can be used in the medical field as well?

The use of VR and 3D visualization technology in medicine isn’t brand-new. Medical researchers have been exploring ways to create 3D models of patient's’ internal organs using VR since the 1990s, but advances in computing power have made simulated images much more realistic and faster to build.

X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans can now be turned into high-resolution 3D images in under a minute whereas twenty years ago, it would've taken weeks to produce these same images.

This advancement means that VR can help people with many different medical issues.  Let's take a closer look at specific problems in the medical field and how VR is helping to provide a solution.

VR and Depression

A study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, suggests that VR therapy could reduce depressive symptoms by boosting feelings of self-compassion and alleviating self-criticism.  

VR achieves this through virtual reality sessions. Patients wear a virtual reality headset which allows them to see from the perspective of a life-size avatar which mimics the exact way that they're moving.

While using this avatar, participants undergo eight-minute sessions, during which they're told to express compassion toward an avatar of a distressed child. As a patient speaks kindly towards the child, the child calms down and gradually stops crying.

Next, the simulation places patients in the child's figure, and then listen to the avatar of their adult selves expressing compassion towards them. 

This exercise of comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, indirectly has the patient give themselves compassion.

Excessive self-criticism is often a central component of depression, and VR-based therapies may be uniquely equipped to target this aspect of the illness.  

VR and Radiology

The medical imaging industry and radiation science is a continually evolving profession, and virtual reality could be a significant factor in that evolution.

Using devices such as virtual reality viewers, as well as styluses or other hardware that provides a feeling of resistance, doctors will be able to take a tour of a patient’s brain, for example, and even cut into virtual tissue. 

Virtual reality technologies can pull in imagery and data from multiple sources and has the potential to more dramatically affect patient outcomes. “In clinical trials, some virtual-reality simulations reduced surgical planning time by 40% and increased surgical accuracy by 10%.” according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. 

The introduction of these simulations can help medical professionals from medical school, with training and demonstration, up to veteran surgeons who may need to simulate an unfamiliar surgery.

VR and Rehab

VR has shown to have a revolutionary impact on nursing and physical therapy, especially in rehabilitating patients.

By using VR technology, it's possible to control what's going on around the patient and measure the impact it may be having on that patient’s ability to change. It can repeatedly expose patients to numerous types of situations which may cause them issues and receive feedback in a safe and nurturing environment.  

Research has shown that VR mediated rehabilitation can speed the pace at which patients can regain their physical abilities. 

For example, in patients who've suffered a stroke, they regained more motion and control in their hand and arm in four weeks of therapy compared to the conventional rehabilitation methods.

Other research has shown similar favorable outcomes for patients with cerebral palsy undergoing rehab for balance problems.

VR and Freedom

Finally, virtual reality technologies can bring a whole new level of freedom and experiences to those who may be disabled or housebound.

The simulation technology can give a 5-year-old child with cerebral palsy the experience of playing outside in a grassy field. It's also allowed 50 children with cancer to spend some time “swimming” around an animated fish tank. 

In more recent times, VR's been utilized to allow those with disabilities the chance to play video games with their friends or even play the piano.  

Stanford University engineering students have even gone so far as to create an immersive virtual reality experience for seniors. In this world, they can experience the outside, like a bike ride or a walk on the beach. They call the technology SUSIE or Senior-User Soothing Immersive Experience,  and it incorporates sound, light, wind, temperature changes, and a large wall-mounted display meant to fill the normal field of vision.

These technologies only scratch the surface of what many in the field hope to achieve with Virtual Reality in the future. It has the potential to change the quality of life for many people dealing with difficult or troubling situations. Making it easy to get behind this technology.  

Author: VR Reporter

I am a hi-tech enthusiast, VR evangelist, and a Co-founder & Chief Director at Virtual Reality Reporter!

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