When people think of Virtual Reality, it is often assumed that it only has a place in the gaming world. With the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and the more recently announced PlayStation VR, it is obvious that VR is starting to make huge strides in popularity and usability, and it seems that VR now has the potential to revolutionise just about every other industry; including healthcare.
Scientists and medical professionals alike have been at the drawing board for years when it comes to VR in healthcare, developing and implementing VR in ways that can help them train, diagnose and treat patients in different situations. Many uses of VR are already being explored in the healthcare environment, but they are continually developing as the technology develops alongside.
Surgery simulators, for example, have come a long way since the Sensorama Simulator from 1961. Hospitals have paid large amounts of money for VR surgery simulators that have become almost invaluable for healthcare professionals in training physicians. Away from surgery, VR is cost effective, safe and extremely engaging for educating and training healthcare professionals. Physicians can receive training on techniques, procedures and patient interaction in a more engaging and realistic environment than using the more traditional theory and paperwork.
Virtual Reality can also be effective for treatment and exposure therapy. It can provide a controlled environment in which patients can face their fears and practice fresh coping strategies while in a safe and private environment where the healthcare professional can stop at any point. Virtual Reality is also being used to help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and has been since the late 1990’s. Clinics and hospitals are now frequently using VR simulations of warfare to relive the traumatic events that veterans had experienced in a safe and controlled environment, in which they can learn how to deal with certain triggers and situations.
Stress management techniques using VR such as meditation are also becoming more popular for healthcare professionals, as they can create an environment in which the patient is completely comfortable and stress-free, away from the outside world. Breathing exercises are a useful technique for treating stress and anxiety, and VR allows them to be more realistic and interactive.
Pain management, brain damage assessment and increasing opportunities for the disabled and homebound are other mentionable uses of VR; and it seems this kind of technology can make both healthcare professionals and patient’s lives that much easier. VR is still in its early days in terms of breaking into the healthcare system, and innovators of VR will become increasingly scrutinised as it becomes more popular; but over the next few years, with smart, adaptive consideration, we could well see Virtual Reality fundamentally change the Healthcare system.