VR has made its way to various industries over the past few years. There are various events happening worldwide, like the IAK VR in der Medizin und Medizintechnik held on 1st October in Mannheim (Germany), and Medical in VR and AR, that took place on 19th September in Charlotte (USA), that aim to promote VR in the healthcare sector. This is not merely due to the increasing popularity and acceptance of this technology, but because of the multiple use cases VR has in the medical field.In order to give you a detailed description with meaningful examples, we have divided this article into two parts. Two articles worth of content about VR in healthcare ought to satisfy VR enthusiasts in the medical field ;)
1. Medical training
Medical training is one of the most popular and useful applications of VR in healthcare. It is especially useful for surgical training but also for other clinical procedures. VR allows trainees to feel like they are inside the human body, whereby they can view every minute detail and area that is otherwise impossible to reach. The 360 degree view and movement enables surgical procedures and other medical treatments to be recreated as realistic, immersive and interactive training scenarios. Moreover, 3D models of the human body, like organs or teeth, give immense learning and experimenting opportunities, along with the possibility to receive immediate feedback. This allows trainees to practise, make mistakes and gain confidence in a safe environment, without causing harm to precious lives. An added benefit is the ability to share and access this knowledge across boundaries.
There are numerous companies making use of VR for training medical experts of the future. Medical Realities is one of the pioneers in this regard. Co-founded by Dr. Shafi Ahmed, who is a practising cancer surgeon, the company uses virtual reality for immersive technologies training. Dr. Ahmed’s recent use of Google Glass while performing an operation allowed 14000 viewers worldwide to navigate and zoom in throughout the procedure. Therefore, he firmly believes that the future of VR medical training looks promising. Nurses are also being VR trained for administering the drug, Multiple Myeloma, which is yielding very promising and positive results for clinical training. HumanSim is another simulation software that provides a virtual environment for medical personnel to practise interaction with patients and learn various treatment scenarios, like administering anesthesia. The Case Western Reserve University has also been using mixed reality simulators to train students with more precision and accuracy.
2. VR Therapies:
VR has multiple use cases in therapy treatment, for both physical health as well as mental well being.
- Mental Health:
Psychological therapies can be conducted along with guided or unguided meditation. Users can put on VR glasses and relax their minds and bodies by transforming into a different world immediately. Therapeutic treatment for dealing with phobias is also possible. An example is that of VirtualSpeech, an app that allows users to practice public speaking to remove the fear associated with it. Addictions, including those of alcohol and drugs, can also be tackled using VR.
Another important and successful use case is that of autism therapy. Specifically, children with autism have been observed to be nearly 45% free from these phobias six months after treatment, and a separate study showed for the first time that VR treatment holds effective in autistic adults as well. Floreo is a company using VR for bringing meaningful changes in autistic people’s lives.
Mental health care for the elderly is also enhanced by VR. MyndVR, for example, is helping seniors cope with cognitive ailments like Alzheimer's and Dementia. Patients can enjoy meaningful experiences, without having to leave the comfort and safety of their homes or medical centers. Furthermore, a study shows how playing a 3D video game designed to train multi-tasking abilities brings seniors’ performance to the level of a 20 year old after only one month of training. Thus, VR can be used to improve balance and neural connections in the elderly.
- Physical Health:
Pain management and physical therapy are also greatly aided by virtual reality. VR is recently being used to ease labour pain, as it distracts expecting mothers from the actual circumstances by transporting them into a virtual environment. VR also acts as an alternative to drugs for other pain management scenarios, for example, painful tooth extractions. VR trials have shown much better results than other sources of entertainment, like watching TV for managing pain.
Furthermore, VR helps for physical therapy after strokes or traumatic brain injury. VR headsets enable patients to relearn everyday activities and practise at much lower costs than traditional physiotherapy. No need for supervision would allow independence for patients, along with the ability to monitor their own progress and gain confidence in their recovery. Moreover, Mindmaze is a Swiss VR app that allows patients to practice movement of their fingers or lift their arms without actually moving. Audiovisual feedback increases motivation, which in turn quickens the recovery process of traumatized nervous systems.
3. VR Surgery
VR surgery is extremely beneficial and convenient for patients and surgeons alike. Using VR, human surgeons control a robotic device that allows them to perform delicate movements with greater precision than performing them with their own hands. This reduces time as well as the risk of complications. Remote telesurgery can also be performed, whereby the surgeon is present at a different location. Accurate force feedback is, however, needed to avoid latency as the surgeon needs to know how much pressure to apply, which varies during each second of intricate procedures.
VR has entered operating rooms in the George Washington University and several surgeries elsewhere are also already being conducted using VR technology. The Lahey Hospital and Medical Center uses virtual reality True 3D’s precise measurement and mapping capabilities to help them size devices that need to be implanted in patients’ bodies via surgery. The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, also uses VR to create anatomical images that make surgical procedures safer. Our partner, NUMENA, has also developed with Braun Aesculap Spine VR an interactive virtual reality simulation of spinal surgery, which you can see in the cover of this Blog. Osso VR is yet another VR surgical simulation platform that offers realistic hand-based interactions while practicing with virtual tools that surgeons use for orthopedic and spine surgeries. It also provides an interactive element through which multiple surgeons can collaborate during training or practice.
With this, we end the first part of this blog. If you enjoyed the use cases and benefits, stay tuned to part 2 next week! :) Meanwhile, you can try your healthcare applications in VR for free with STAGE! :)