9 Ways To Use Virtual Reality In Healthcare

Virtual Reality (VR) is a recent digital invention that is steadily changing the way we live as well as significantly improving our daily well-being and health. 

In a nutshell, virtual reality involves the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment where users get immersed in. While unlike traditional user interfaces, VR places the user inside the virtual experience, instead of having just to show a screen. Virtual technologies can simulate different senses like vision, hearing, smelling or even touching and other actions. Moreover, users can even interact with VR 3D world instead of 3D TV, that is often misused, for example. 

As we’ve mentioned, that virtual reality impacts our usual lifestyle totally. Afterward, it doesn’t seem like it will be getting out of trend anytime soon. Moreover, according to Statista research the AR/VR estimated share will reach around 193 billion U.S. dollars that is almost 16 times more than in 2018.

Such a rise of AR/VR market can be explained its wide application in a lot of industries. Despite on we thought it was just a tool to help magnify the utility derived from entertainment and games, but presently, it has successfully defied that thought.  As of today, VR is used in almost any and every industry. It expands its usage in retail, real estate, education, and healthcare. Indeed, its usefulness in each one is inexhaustible.

Medicine is not an exception in this case. Virtual reality is also fastly becoming one of the most exciting advancements in the healthcare industry. It has helped advance results within the health sector. 

The advantage of virtual reality is its flexibility and wide application of this technology that can be manipulated and tweaked to adapt to different medical niches.

It has made indelible improvements to the health and general lives of people, on the wings of medicine. Patients with deficiencies like autism, lazy eye, chronic pain, and other health conditions have VR to thank a great deal. The following fields in the sphere of health have been influenced by VR the most

  • Psychology
  • Medicine
  • Neuroscience
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Mental health therapy
  • Motor and cognitive skills rehabilitation
  • Clinical skills training

Virtual and augmented reality-based solutions have already changed healthcare as we now know it before. There is no way back, it’s time to adapt our lifestyle and business model to these incredible changes.

How Virtual Reality Is Used In Medical Industry

More and more medical and healthcare organizations and doctors are exploring and evaluating areas where virtual reality proves to work better than traditional medical approaches for improving life. 

It’s proven by that top world’s technology companies like Google, Microsoft, Sony, Apple, and Nvidia invest huge resources into the development of VR devices and applications in the medical industry.

Let’s walk through some of the most useful and pioneer ways virtual reality technology is used in healthcare include:

  • Medical Training And Education Using Virtual Reality Technologies

Virtual reality adds color to the medical training and education process. It improves the general quality of medicine. These VR-based apps are used to educate future doctors and help them to learn better human anatomy, practice operations, and tech infection control. Some examples of VR-inclined devices and platforms include Precision Genomics VR, Anatomyou VR, and Airway EX Virtual Surgery Simulator. 

Today through using these devices the learning experience same as quality of education of medical students have gotten better. 

On the norm, only a few medical students can attend an operation and learn the process at a time. There is no room for every student to study while looking over the shoulder of a surgeon. But with virtual reality, the learning and teaching experience in medicine has moved to a lot higher and advanced level. 

The first such operation using virtual reality camera exercised by cancer surgeon Shafi Ahmedon was on 14 April 2016  at the Royal London hospital. 

(Image source: www.theguardian.com)

Thanks for such innovation now surgeons can stream their operations using a virtual reality camera. While medical students get the opportunity to have a closer look at the surgery process and get a better experience while watching and learning in virtual worlds. 

With their VR goggles, they step into the VR and can follow every detail from the start to the last move. Family members and other stakeholders that wish to participate in the operation would be granted access to with these VR goggles.

One more application of virtual reality in medical education is that it can even help physicians to experience life as an elder person that is also applied in education. 

Seniors solution is one solution of that kind. It helps reconcile the experience lag in young doctors and caregivers on their old patients. Sometimes they respond to the needs of their aged patients usually in the incorrect way because they don’t get to feel what their patients are feeling. 

In the simplest words, due to the non-experiential feel of old age and the ills that come with it, young doctors do not always find it easy recognizing the symptoms and understanding their client. But, what Seniors does is to grant doctors with a pseudo-experience of how it feels to be an older person in their 70s, to grow old and to recover from the stroke.

We Are Alfred is another VR tool that works like Seniors. It was created by Embodied Labs. With We are Alfred, each user can be an Alfred for 7 minutes and experience life from the older patient’s perspective. 

Such a VR application provides a  valuable experience for medical students and young specialists in their study process.

  • VR-Based Mobile App For Healthcare 

VR-based mobile applications help in the treatment of different diseases that helps in solving a lot of medical problems. There are different kinds of VR medical apps including virtual medical games that help to get rid of pain and phobias, speed up rehabilitation, help patients in understanding the medical process and make medical study easier for students too. 

VR apps act as surgery simulator, VR app for meditation and people with disabilities. The VR apps for education is not limited to use by students alone. It can be used by other interested stakeholders.

For example, The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) created a VR mobile app that makes medical education available to anyone even without a medical background. The RCSI app has a particular mode for non-medical users. In this case, the app shows users detailed information on each step of specific medical procedures.

  • Pain Management And Relaxation With Virtual Reality Application

Medical VR which is also called virtual reality therapy has proved useful in helping the brain process pain and even reduce the pains of patients. Virtual reality experiences act as a treatment for patients with some chronic diseases. 

It was proven by the study of the University of Washington HITLab that the patients that engaged in virtual reality felt less pain when compared to those who didn’t and they were able to relax more.

The study explains that pain perception has a strong psychological component. It means that people can feel differently the same brain signal about pain. It depends on what the patient is thinking and doing at that moment. 

Interacting with VR people get the illusion of getting inside the virtual environment. This process requires a lot of attention and brain resources too. That leads that our brain and we focus less on the pain signals. It means we feel the pain less because our brain and attention are spending on interaction in the virtual reality world.  Thus, such virtual reality apps can help patients even get rid of chronic health issues even better than traditional treatment in the hospital. 

The students from Simon Fraser University have developed the Farmoo app, a virtual reality video game for cancer patients. Its purpose was to help teen cancer patients get distracted from the pain during chemotherapy treatments. This app helps them to forget about the illness during some time and to concentrate more on imagery worlds and less on the pressure of pain and stress that they feel. It gives them the illusion of a different life, setting, and circumstances. 

Within the app, they can now escape the four walls of the hospital and have experiences of having to swim together with whales in a beautiful ocean, join helicopter rides over wonderful landscapes in the Poles, or get involved in games,  just about any activity that will keep them smiling. 

This app could also be useful to patients with terminal diseases who are only living their last days. It will aid them to live good, fun-filled and engaging last days.

 So, VR devices help the patient release stress without even visiting the hospital.

  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation with VR

Virtual reality technology allows physical and neurology therapists to make the therapy process engaging and what importantly more effective than usual exercises.  

Under medical research, patients do only 30% of the needed exercises during rehabilitation. 

Here come VR technologies. They can combine physical exercises into virtual games and customize the program for every patient including neuro impaired people. 

As a great example of such a tool is VR physical therapy system developed by HTC Vive. 

Moreover, some physical VR devices can even track the quality of the patient’s activity, even control that and quantify the progress.  What more amazing that therapy through VR games motivates the patients much more than usual physical exercises.

  • Treatment of phobias and post-traumatic disorders with VR

Virtual reality can be used in fears and phobias treatment and post-traumatic stress disorder recovering. Thorough virtual world patients are faced with their fears slowly and in such a way can compete with such disorders.

Bravemind is an example of a VR-based mobile app, developed at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies that help with phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).  

Bravemind allows doctors to immerse patient with PTSD into the virtual environment each tailored to specific needs where the user is faced with their traumatic experiences. The therapist control and monitor all the processes of the brain activities of the patients during their response on the stress. Through virtual reality application, doctors get a better understanding of the brain and biological factors that cause PTSD in each case and serve a better treatment.

  • Cognitive Recovery and rehabilitation with VR

Virtual reality aids to speed up the recovery and cognitive rehabilitation for patients. Patients with cognitive or similar disabilities caused by any kind of brain injury are often faced with the lack of abilities and motivation to participate in the rehabilitation can have effective treatment through VR tools. 

Patients can interact in the virtual environment and practice some tasks that are hard to do for them in reality. 

There is already developed virtual reality-based neurorehabilitation gaming system that helps patients a lot in their motor and cognitive recovery.

While VR devices can record and track all activities and personalized the virtual experience for each user’s needs. In results, it helps speed up patients’ recovery process and they get better and healed VR helps to regain muscle control too.

  • Help People With Low Vision Due To VR

Low vision is a not so common visual impairment that has not enjoyed publicity. About 135 million people globally suffer from low vision. The saddest part of the narrative is the fact that it cannot be corrected by surgery, medicine or glasses. 

Low vision is caused 45% of the time by age-related factors and it is 55%+ of the time caused by an eye-affecting injury, disorder, or disease like diabetes. Low vision is a serious impairment. It is capable of inhibiting its victim from carrying out his everyday tasks.

Until the advent of VR and AR, it was seen as an unlucky fate as patients had no choice but to live with it. With virtual reality, products like, emerged. It helps patients with low vision impairment regain their sight via a VR experience.

The VR medium helps patients by magnifying the desired objects in the visual scene meanwhile, not losing awareness of the overall environment around them. It operates in such a way that users have autonomy over their sight. The user gets to choose the degree of magnification they would. 

User can even adjust some other properties to suit his demands and needs. Adjustable properties include contrast, ambient level, and text options. 

One of the examples of such device is an IrisVison, a low vision enhancement system developed in cooperation of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine,  Stanford University. The VR glasses aid users to overcome low visual issues and even strengthen the work of the optical system and brain and improve the vision.

So now, low vision patients can perform eye-hand coordination activities like learning to play the piano with much more ease than they would without these VR tools. 

  • Using VR in dental practice

There is a piece for dentists and their clients too. With Virtual reality, dentists can create a virtual prototype of a patient’s mouth for research or pre-treatment tricks. This helps to increase the effectiveness of dental treatment and speed it up. Another way of applying VR in dental practice is by using VR glasses together with headphones to distract patients from their fears during the treatment at the dentist.

  • Making patients feel like staying at home via VR during long in-hospital treatment 

The need to stay at the hospital during long-term treatment is always stressful and hard psychologically for all patients and especially for children missing their parents and friends. Virtual reality glasses can help to get rid of any stress caused by staying at the hospital. 

VisitU company developed one of such a device. The brand created a downloadable app and virtual glasses which allow patients to reach their relatives and loved ones at home during any time of the day or night. 

Also, Virtual reality in the medical field makes it easier for friends and relatives to maintain strong communications with their hospitalized friends and relatives. This is particularly useful for relatives and friends who live far away and are interested in seeing for themselves how their friend is doing. This will spare them the cost and time of going on lengthy drives to the hospital. 

You know, it can only get better as VR is adding value to life and cutting out unnecessary stress. This is what makes life better.

Concluding thoughts

Conclusively, virtual reality is set to revolutionize the outlook of the healthcare industry. It can be used in fields ranging from developing new life-saving techniques, helping in rehabilitation and pain or phobias management to training the doctors for the needs that the future will demand. 

Virtual reality magnifies experiences and immerses you in particular ways, it guarantees little or no risk in its safe and controlled environment. It can transport you inside and around the human body to gain full access to view areas that otherwise would be impossible to reach.

Currently, medical students can only learn over cadavers, although this is fair enough, it still doesn’t perfectly suffice. These cadavers are most times difficult to find and maintain and it does not react in the same way that a live patient would.

But with VR medical students can view even the minutest of details of any part of the body and can even create training scenarios which replicate common surgical procedures. The ability to view the inside of the human body in virtual reality is not only useful for doctors but also patients. VR allows patients to be taken through their surgical plan.

VR has also been used to fix mental disabilities. It is useful in curbing memory loss. It is used on autistic children to enhance their learning processes in the classroom and to also gather data for dementia research. 

VR will be used more and more to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of current and enhance the capabilities of the human being, both as a caregiver and the patient. 

The uses and benefits of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies in medical activities cannot be exhausted. The ones mentioned above do not cater to the full view of the scientific virtual reality movement that is changing healthcare. The potential for VR in the healthcare sector is huge, limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of those creating and applying the technology.

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Andrii Horiachko

Co-Founder, CTO at Softermii
Andrii Goryachko, Co-Founder/CTO at Softermii, has overall 9 years of experience in web and mobile development of projects for different industries worldwide. His agency Softermii specializes primarily in software development for healthcare, real estate and retail industries having extensive expertise in software development of digital on-demand medical products, telemedicine solutions, and applications for pharmacies. 

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