7 ways that virtual reality is changing the healthcare industry

Virtual reality has long been the subject of futuristic excitement. Most of the buzz has traditionally been about how it can improve video games…

However, we are starting to see virtual reality making an exciting impact on the healthcare industry with many innovative uses being found for the hi-tech devices. Here are our top seven ways in which virtual reality is changing the healthcare profession.

  1. Teaching and training

When medical virtual reality is mentioned, the first thing most people think of is how it can be used for treatment of patients. However, it is starting to be used as an effective way of training new doctors and nurses to deal with situations they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience until it happens in real life. This means when it happens for real, they are able to stay calm and go through the motions without the panic. For example, in 2016 a cardiologist at a Hammersmith Hospital re-created a situation during an angioplasty where one of the wires perforated the artery walls, causing a rapid leakage. The cardiologists were able to blow up a microscopic balloon inside the artery to stop further blood loss, before inserting a drain to remove the excess. They did this on an actor and a sophisticated robot to create this incredibly real, but virtual simulation.

Another way virtual reality has been utilised to train doctors is by filming operations live through 360⁰ cameras. In 2016 a doctor at the Royal London Hospital completed an operation using a virtual reality 360⁰ camera. This feed was streamed to medical students around the world online or through a virtual reality app demonstrating exactly how the surgeon removed a cancerous tissue from the bowel of a patient.

Cognitive Rehabilitation

Patients who have suffered brain injuries from illnesses such as strokes, can often struggle to complete ordinary tasks. For example, a simple trip out to the local shop, walking up the stairs can be incredibly hard or even impossible in certain cases. So how can virtual reality help with this? By re-creating these tasks in a virtual environment, patients are able to practice their movement and can increase the level of complexity in the task once they show improvement. Doctors have seen this help with the pace of recovery.

Pain management

Doctors in Los Angeles have been using virtual reality for patients to release stress and reduce pain. The team at the Cedars-Sinai hospital brought in virtual reality with pleasant virtual worlds such as startling scenery in Iceland or swimming in the ocean with whales. The belief is that this gives patients the opportunity to escape the hospital walls, and explore worlds they have always wanted to. This allows patients to enjoy themselves and reduce their pain. Sounds good right?

Improving fitness

The past twenty years has seen a meteoric rise in child obesity across the western world. With many different attempts at trying to engage children to exercise; virtual reality has been suggested as a potential answer. Whether it’s accumulating points for performing exercises, beating a high score or racing past a virtual opponent on your exercise bike, it has the potential to inject a palpable element of fun to working out.

The exercise bike seems to be one of the more popular fitness innovations for virtual reality. Exercisers can find themselves cycling up a mountain pass in the midst of the Himalayas or racing through the busy streets of a big city. It brings together the elements of video gaming by racing against a real or virtual opponent whilst also allowing the user to improve their fitness.

Physical rehab

Let’s face it, it’s more fun doing exercise in virtual reality than it is going to the gym. It is on this basis that the medical industry has started using virtual reality for patients that are undergoing physical rehabilitation. For example, patients that need help with regaining arm movements can play a game where they have to try and catch a virtual ball by raising their arm above their head. The element of fun in the exercise has been found to give patients more motivation to try and succeed in reaching their goal. The study in how virtual reality is perceived and interacted with by patients is helping specialists design better rehabilitation applications.

Making children feel at home in hospital

Being in hospital isn’t a nice experience for anyone, but it can take a particularly hard toll on children who are away from the familiarity of their home and parents for the first time. A Dutch company called VisitU think they might just have the answer for this though.

By using a smart phone and virtual headset, patients are able to contact home. Doctors have found this can give a huge boost to patients whilst they are staying in the unfamiliar surroundings of a hospital ward.

Helping doctors and nurses experience life as a patient

A long-standing issue for young doctors treating elderly patients has been the lack of empathy doctors can have for older patients.

Embodied Labs have created “We Are Alfred” using VR technology to demonstrate to young medical students and doctors the difficulties that ageing can cause. With “We Are Alfred” doctors can hypothetically experience the life of a 74 year old man with audio-visual impairments. This, not only allows them to empathise with their patients.

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We are really excited by the different innovations that healthcare professionals around the globe are finding for the use of virtual reality. Have you heard of better uses that you think deserve a mention? Get in touch via our Facebook and LinkedIn pages below, we’d love to hear from you.

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