Virtual Reality to Change Healthcare
When Microsoft released a video of its project X-Rays, gamers salivated in October of 2015. X-Ray is a mixed reality video game. A user was seen wearing a HoloLens goggles and a handheld device. Viewers were able to watch the device turned into a cybernetic gun that encompassed the hand and forearm of man as if he was a cyborg. Soon, the robots were coming from the walls and attacking the user who was able to upgrade his weapon and return fire. The room was turned into a futuristic battle arena. The concept of virtual reality has come a long way since the 1990s. Today, we stand at an interesting point, where virtual reality is going to disrupt lots of industries such as sports, research, education, car manufacture, entertainment, military, and even healthcare.
According to the consulting and research firm IndustryARC, the virtual and augmented reality in the field of healthcare is expected to generate a revenue of $2.54 billion globally by 2020. Augmented reality is just like the Project X-Ray, which is a mix of the real and virtual worlds.
The entirety of the experience with the virtual reality is digital. In the sector of healthcare, rehabilitation and training are the two areas where these technologies will mostly be utilized.
With a groundbreaking event coming on April 14, the Royal London Hospital will leave its mark on the history. This is going to be the first live streamed operation in the world which will be available in virtual reality and smartphone. Special cameras will be placed above the operating table that will allow the thousands of viewers to observe a British patient, who is in his 70’s, undergo a colon cancer operation. Dr. Shafi Ahmed will perform this operation. The viewer will watch this surgery as it starts, but with a one-minute time delay to avoid any unwanted scene. Dr. Ahmed is also experimenting with these 360-degree cameras. According to Dr. Ahmed, the purpose of this is to allow the medical professionals around the world the ability to see such operation and use them for their training purposes.
To train the young doctors in the real life circumstances, fully immersive 3D operating room simulations can be used, helping them to become more confident, gain experience, and to generate the ability to make the quick decisions that are necessary to save lives. Some training simulations are already being offered at different places. Heart catheterization simulation is one of the simulations that are available at the UC Davis Centre for Virtual Care. Cardiologists are going to perform on a mannequin named “Samantha” to give the students an experience as close to actual life as possible, without putting the life of any person at risk. The officials of the University said that the center is not only for the training greenhorns but it is also for the seasoned pros, to well tune their abilities and to learn the best way to run their medical team. Other applications of virtual reality include performing a colonoscopy, as well as laparoscopic, endoscopic, robotic and organ transplant surgery.
Virtual organ models can also help surgeons to prepare for a complicated or delicate procedure, outside of training purpose. This is the thinking to decrease complications, increase accuracy, and reduce trauma. Sometimes a patient requires an uncommon, lifesaving procedure in which the surgeon has no experience. In this situation, virtual reality can be used to help the physician understand how to perform such a kind of operation in minutes. In addition to the planning, training, and simulations, the models of virtual research, and diagnostics are on the horizon.
Virtual reality is not just changing the face of medicine for the doctors but it is also doing this for the patients.
Phantom limb pain is a serious problem for amputees. This is where the brain continues to send the signals to the missing leg or arm, resulting in shooting pains, or a feeling of itching, tingling, burning, or electric. Some amputees have even told that they can sense an itch in the palm of their lost hand. There is no way to shut this phenomenon off.
A researcher at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden directed an experiment with an amputee. On the missing arm of the patient, they placed electrodes on it. A virtual reality headset was given to the patient, who was able to watch that the arm guiding a steering wheel as he drove a car virtually. The patient on which this technology was tested reported less pain overall, and even some long expanses without the discomfort at all during the whole course of treatment.
In the area of mental health, virtual reality through the exposure therapy has already been used to help patients with a phobia. Since the 90s, PTSD victims have been targeted for virtual reality therapy. Now, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which is a therapy that enables memories that are traumatic to be reframed and recalled through definite movements of eyes and can be combined with virtual reality. But it’s not completely clear as to how this will happen. Some hospitals are using virtual reality technology to put the veterans back into the war circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to help them understand the circumstances and come to peace with their recollections and move on from them.
Meditation, breathing control, and virtual reality games such as Deep that uses biofeedback, controls their breathing, helps the patient relax, and reinforces a positive attitude to help alleviate pain. Another virtual reality game known as SnowWorld, which is developed by the psychologist Hunter Hoffman, helps the patients to forget their pain by discovering a magical, snowbound atmosphere soaked in Paul Simon’s music. One of the 2011 studies of soldiers who had endured burns from an IED attack found that the SnowWorld was a more effective pain killer than morphine. In that, it has wide applications for the chronic management too.
Other places in which virtual reality can be utilized include brain damage rehabilitation and evaluation, help for disabled and homebound, and social training for those with autism. Though these are already earmarked for a number of healthcare applications, the surface has still yet to be scratched as for the many ways VR can be applied. Soon seamless integration between virtual reality and so many other innovations such as AI, big data, and others will bring healthcare’s new advancements to a medical facility close to you.