Virtual Reality has seen a huge progress during 2016 and it is expected to be the next big thing in the tech industry. Also the Virtual Reality for Healthcare. Not in vain did giant Facebook buy VR company Oculus in 2014 for 2 billion dollars. And it is investing another 500 millions to develop its VR business.
All the main players (Google, Samsung, Sony -PlayStation-, HTC, Oculus) and many more firms have launched their own devices at more or less affordable prices, trying to get access to the mainstream public. For the moment the immersive experience provided by the VR headsets are mainly used for games, or entertainment. But VR is already playing a big part in education, with Google having a programme in the UK to reach a million school kids.
You can now experience climbing Mount Everest using VR from the comfort of your couch in your living room. On a funny note, the famous game Surgeon Simulator, which was released in 2013 and sold over 3 million units on all the platforms, has just released a Virtual Reality edition, with some aditional features to fit the new platform.
What’s more, VR is being used by the healthcare and medicine industry, helping patients and doctors alike. It is at a very early stage, but it is estimated that Healthcare VR market will reach 3,8 billion dollars by 2018.
Here are a few examples of Virtual Reality for Healthcare:
Education and Training
Doctors can now use VR to teach the medical students in an innovative and engaging way, in a controlled environment, being able to make mistakes with no-one being harmed. They can acquire skills and practice them in a virtual scenario, and also learn to tackle unexpected situations, which will become handy once they start their practice.
In the same way, VR brings new ways of interaction to the live events industry, as it allows the audience to have an immersive experience and follow an innovative surgery proceeding as if they were in the operating room.
Google Cardboard is available at Amazon for less than £10, and you just need a smartphone to download one of the many VR apps available on the market to start experiencing the immersive experiences that VR allows. For instance, patients can recreate the hospital experience even before going there to be tested, or receive treatment. Or the opposite, it helps children in hospital for long term treatments to be able to feel at home. VisitU is a Dutch company that offers patients the chance to be in contact with their parents and family with the use of a 360 degree camera, so they can participate of the daily family life. Also facilitates the contact with relatives living far away.
Just a few months ago, in April 2016, it took place the first operation using a VR camera, at the Royal London Hospital. Anyone could join the operation in real time, thanks to the use of two 360 degree cameras located above the patient. Just needed to check the website of Medical Realities, or use the app for mobile devices. Be it a medical student in Qatar, or an specialised journalist. The operation was followed by more than 54,000 people worldwide. This brings a new level in surgical training, as it is only possible for 1 or 2 students to follow an operation live at the operating theatre as it happens.
Treatment and therapies
VR can be used to treat patients with anxiety and social disorders, reduce stress and pain. Through the use of VR patients can experience custom virtual scenarios that help them to go through painful treatments (physiotherapy). Or to learn how to relax and breathe when having a panic/stress attack. For children with autism, the use or virtual scenarios of social situations can help them to learn how to respond and develop social skills.
Preventative medicine and counselling
Using VR to educate people on healthy choices or how to introduce changes in their habits to become healthier (ie. showing them the negative impacts on their health if they smoke/drink). Or teach social skills using virtual scenarios to people with fear or talking in public, or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
VR is also useful to help people suffering of paranoia, by replicating the situations that generate the trouble, and teaching the patients to overcome their fears, as it was studied by a team from Oxford University. The study proved that patients following the VR treatment experienced a better improvement than those following the traditional exposure therapy.
These are just a few of the applications of VR to medicine, and as the technology is evolving in a fast paced environment, many more uses will improve the lives of both healthcare professionals and patients and their relatives.