Once the realm of devoted gamers, virtual reality (VR) is rapidly making its way into various industries, offering an immersive way to transform business operations.
Among these industries is healthcare. While perhaps in its nascent stages, the technology is now helping surgeons hone in on their techniques and improve the care they’re providing to patients.
The applications of VR technology in healthcare are increasing every day, but here are a few examples of its most prominent uses so far.
Next-generation student training
In the first few years of medical school, students primarily learn within a classroom environment. Real-world experience isn’t introduced until clinical rotations and only provide limited practical exposure to a budding surgeon.
VR offers the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a safe virtual surgical experience ahead of their real surgical residency. Students can observe surgeries, virtually practice procedures, and learn how to interact with patients in certain environments.
Medical students are also using VR to explore real human anatomy including the cardiovascular, the skeletal, and the central nervous systems in a totally immersive environment.
Developing patient empathy
Aside from practical skills, one of the key elements to becoming a great doctor is the development of strong empathy for the patients being treated. This is not always an easy skill to develop. How can you possibly imagine how a deaf patient is feeling?
With VR, doctors have the opportunity to experience (to a degree) the symptoms a patient is feeling. A University of Illinois at Chicago startup, Embodied Labs, developed a project which allowed students to get a feel for the limitations of macular degeneration. With a VR headset, students were immersed in an experience in which they saw large, dark patches over the sight of loved ones.
Whether its a loss of vision, hearing loss, vertigo, or other symptoms, VR technology helps health professional develop the strong empathy skills needed to be successful.
Assisting in rehabilitation training
Virtual reality is also increasingly being used in rehabilitation settings for various illnesses.
One example is helping patients with brain injuries practice everyday tasks such as shopping in a supermarket. Recreating these scenarios within a virtual environment allows patients to practice them in a comfortable and safe environment.
This can significantly speed up recovery, helping patients to regain a higher level of cognitive function. As well as helping with cognitive rehabilitation, VR can also help tackle psychological fears and phobias.
A common treatment of phobias is through a process called graded-exposure therapy, involving a patient slowly being introduced to their fear by a therapist.
Virtual reality is a perfect facilitator of this therapy and can be adjusted to each individual patients’ needs, even from the comfort of their own home.
Instead of having to confront fears face-to-face, patients can first instead view their fears virtually with the help of a psychologist.