Applications of virtual reality in health industry
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Applications of virtual reality in health industry

2017-04-21 10:25:00

Virtual reality is a big thing in the modern tech world, and we are talking about it everywhere now! Virtual reality is also not just about video gaming, or just something entertaining, but also brings us promising applications for many other fields in our life, such as tourism, real estate and even healthcare and medicine industry.

For healthcare and medicine industry, virtual reality is not just applied for one or two years, but it has shown its effectiveness in this industry for years, and scientists and medical professionals have been doing more to use this technology in order to bring really much better results in developing and implementing virtual reality in ways that can help them train, diagnose, and treat in myriad situations. There are lots of uses of this technology here, but the following are outstanding applications of VR in health industry at the moment.

Virtual reality medical training

To become a good doctor or a good nurse, people must be well-trained, and they also need experience. And virtual reality is a good means of education and instruction in medical schools or other similar settings. By using VR technology, students can acquire knowledge and understanding about the human body by means of interaction within a virtual environment.

A very interesting thing we can see with virtual reality here is that people can use this technology to improve the surgery skills of students. As we know that training for surgeons usually involves cadavers and a gradual process of assisting more experienced doctors before taking over tasks and bigger portions of the surgery. Virtual reality could provide another means of practice, without any risk to real patients: perform ‘hands on’ procedures but in a safe and controlled setting by interacting with a virtual patient and as a result of this, and learn skills which they can then apply in the real world.

Exposure therapy

In order to treat patients with phobias, we can use virtual reality to bring them an experience in which they will have to face the fears inside a controlled environment. With this environment, patients can practice to face their fears and learn how to control their emotion and escape that feeling. Besides, the patients even can practice copying strategies as well as breaking patterns of avoidance — all while in a setting that's private, safe, and easily stopped or repeated, depending on the circumstances. Since the most effective way to deal our fears is to face them.

In term of using technology to treat a range of disorders, or also known as computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), virtual reality is one of the several methods that brings very good results. CBT is a particular form of therapy which encourages the sufferer to talk through their problems to change negative beliefs into positive forms of action. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves a face to face discussion with a counselor or a group session but CCBT replaces that with a computer interface. A virtual reality set-up is suited to those people who are uncomfortable with talking about their condition with another person but find it easier to explore their condition in a virtual environment.

Treatment for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a condition which develops when a person has been placed under extreme stress or suffered a high level of trauma. Meanwhile, virtual reality is an immersive technology in which the person wears a head-mounted display (HMD) which displays 3D images. By using an immersive experience with virtual reality, patients with PTSD can be treated better.

The patients wear a virtual reality headset (glasses or head mounted display) in order to immerse into an environment which can decrease their anxiety levels and feelings of anxiety. However, this virtual environment will challenge their painful memories or any other existing beliefs, which will cause them to learn new ways of thinking and behaving which will positively impact upon their lives. The purpose of this therapy is to help the patients lose any feeling of anxiety caused by their condition so that they can lead a normal life. Their physiological and psychological responses are monitored and analyzed as part of the treatment. Plus these are used to inform future developments in this technology.

Phantom limb pain

Phantom limb pain is a common deicidal issue for the people who lose a limb. This happens with a person without an arm, and might feel as though he is clenching his fist very tightly, unable to relax. This pain becomes more and more sharp, or even excruciating. In the past, one of the treatments for this patient is mirror therapy: The patients look at a mirror image fro the limb they still have and maybe find relief as the brain syncs with the movements of the real and phantom limbs.

In a similar vein, a study in 2014 from medical journal Frontiers in Neuroscience on the role virtual reality may play in helping alleviate phantom limb pain. It works like this: sensors pick up on the nerve inputs from the brain. In the game, patients use a virtual limb and must complete tasks. It helps them gain some control and learn, for example, how to relax that painfully clenched fist.

Opportunities from virtual reality for the disabled

In 1994, there is a story about a 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy immersed into a VR experience that let him take the wheelchair through a grassy field, or another that let 50 children with cancer spend some time "swimming" around an animated fish tank.

Recently, many companies and organizations operate virtual worlds that enable the patients to interact with others through avatars. “Avatars are graphical representations of human beings and can be customized to fit individual requirements. These avatars navigate their environment, participating in activities and socializing with other people.

The aim of this technology is to enable the disabled to lead an independent life wherever possible and to interact with others. Virtual reality can teach them basic skills which able-bodied people often take for granted but nevertheless, are still important for day to day living. These include cooking, shopping, and other household tasks.

The aim is to boost confidence and self-esteem thereby leading to improved quality of life. The disabled person is able to engage with society and feel a sense of value from doing so.

Meditation with virtual reality

Meditation is very great for all of us, and if we can find out an environment to immerse into, the result becomes much better. And in term of healthcare, meditation is a good way to treat general anxiety. When we wear a VR headset on, we can immerse into an environment that helps us learn how to take deep, meditative breathes.

If you are still in doubt if meditation with virtual reality really works, can have a look at this article on Foxnews: Does virtual reality meditation work?

Pain management

Many people when getting a pain they try to do something to change their attention into another thing. Virtual reality can help those who have a pain immerse into another world, in which their brain will be concentrated on something other. Doctors are hoping distraction therapy via virtual reality could help them get a handle on that pain. A VR video game from the University of Washington called SnowWorld, which involves throwing snowballs at penguins and listening to Paul Simon, could alleviate pain during tasks that can be excruciating, like wound care or physical therapy, by overwhelming the senses and pain pathways in the brain.

Virtual reality treatment for autism

People with autism usually have problems with their social skills, and to help these people to develop their social skills, some professors at the University of Texas in Dallas, USA have created a program that uses VR.

With this program, children, teens and young adults will be put in social scenarios (job interview or blind dates with avatars). Then they will learn how to pick up on social cues and respond appropriately.

Brain damage assessment and rehabilitation

Scientists created a virtual reality experience in which users had to reach the exit of a building using doors of different colors. It was supposed to be similar to the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, a neuropsychological test where participants match cards. They're not told how, only if the match is right or wrong. "The authors concluded that their test measures the same cognitive functions as the WCST and may prove to be more ecologically valid," CyberPsychology & Behavior wrote.
Opportunities for the homebound

There's a certain amount of fretting which surrounds virtual reality that has to do with what will happen when people can go anywhere and do anything through a VR headset — maybe they won't go anywhere in real life in favor of retreating into an ideal virtual world. The thing is, for those who don't have the ability to get out in the real world, whether they be disabled or elderly, virtual reality could improve their quality of life when they'd otherwise be confined to a single residence, room, or even a bed.