I had recently stumbled across an article that mentioned the viability of using virtual reality (VR) solutions in the healthcare space, and was immensely interested by the potential uses of the platform in such a novel way. Too often do we relegate VR to a “gamer’s passion” or as a “dying fad.” In opposition to these notions, Inc.com recently detailed the top five potential uses for VR in healthcare, and each one looks more promising to me than the last!
1. Dealing with addiction
As someone who has seen addiction sweep across communities near my hometown, I truly understand the impact that substance abuse can have on families, communities, and social groups. One of the biggest problems when addressing this phenomenon is the fact that relapses occur with such a high frequency that people who have dependency problems sometimes forgo rehabilitation altogether due to their perception that “getting help leads back to substances anyway.” With VR, those in rehab can lean on the powerful perception-altering qualities of the virtual world instead when they feel the pull of their old lifestyle during treatment. In addition, as our own mobile devices become increasingly powerful, they can even serve as basic VR platforms as well, allowing those who are reliant upon them to access virtual treatment whenever and wherever the situation demands.
2. Accelerating physical rehab
While it’s both heartbreaking and a constant uphill battle to complete the immensely challenging requirements of overcoming a physical injury, VR could serve to either diminish the pain associated with physical rehab or lessen the psychological impact of the rehab process. Studies have shown that visual stimulus is one of the most effective methods of distracting one from the pain of a situation. In addition, the feelings of despair from seemingly slow progress could be mitigated or redirected altogether by implementing VR games and milestones into a treatment plan, thereby accelerating the treatment period.
3. Simplifying advanced concepts
A long-time friend of mine is currently completing his third year in residency to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, and has often stated the dangers of gaining experience while working in the trauma unit at his hospital. However, there is currently no viable alternative to exposing new doctors to the human body without potentially putting a life on the line for the sake of education and training. With VR, the danger of requiring a doctor-in-training to work on live bodies could be mitigated or nullified entirely. The human body is an extraordinarily complicated organic machine, with tubes, veins, and organs scattered throughout. If we could reproduce these features on a virtual plane, then our future healthcare professionals could gain valuable experience by exploring the nuances of the human body before ever coming into contact with a life-or-death scenario. After completing such a VR-assisted training regimen, the mortality rate as a result of operator error could potentially plummet.
4. Assuaging patients before risky procedures
Even if a surgeon has been fully trained and is completely prepared for an upcoming surgery, there is no guarantee that the patient can be reassured that they are in good hands, and that the procedure will be a success. With the assistance of VR, that could very well change. In this scenario, the projections of the human body that the doctors have been trained with would be simplified for the layperson to understand. Then, the patient in question would be exposed to a virtual mapping of the procedure, and given a step-by-step walkthrough of how the procedure is expected to take place. This serves to both enlighten and calm the patient, and even breaks the language barrier in the numerous cases where a pre-operation patient isn’t a native English speaker. A picture tells a thousand words, making a VR presentation probably something that could convey a million – now with no bias against the native language of the patient.
5. To familiarize the aging process
It is no secret that the more “seasoned” have radically different health and family requirements than the rest of us. In situations where such patients require care, it can be difficult to find the appropriate staff to effectively render the proper services. In this example, VR can serve to educate future doctors about proper diagnoses of health issues resulting from advanced aging as well as how to deliver news of these issues to the concerned family and friends of these patients. As we all age, we develop different social and familial relationships, usually forming bonds that are both strong and lifelong. When an older patient encounters a health issue, it can devastate an entire group. With VR, a doctor can be trained on how to lessen the impact of a diagnosis for both the patient and the patient’s social circle, something that currently can’t be learned from textbooks and manuals alone.
Although I’m not discounting the fun that can arise from virtual reality platforms, there are simply so many more applications waiting to be implemented using such advanced tools. The head-tracking, motion-sensing, and 3D rendering features built into all of today’s VR kits can simulate a dust-covered, bullet-riddled battlefield just as well as they can a dissected and plaque-covered aorta of a patient. To relegate such advanced technology to only fun and entertainment would be a disservice to their potential. I believe that, with the help of the VR equipment of today and near-future, we can lower the impact of society-crippling addictions and illnesses to raise the standard of living beyond the 21st century.