I remember watching the 90s series about a virtual reality game. The plot revolved around various characters that regularly accessed virtual reality space with the help of special goggles. While in the VR world, they would gain supernatural abilities along with futuristic armor and fought whatever evil force that threatened their equilibrium in a given episode. My adolescent mind was utterly fascinated and astounded by the VR concept.
The inconceivable idea to have access to a “parallel universe,” so to speak, appeared to be impossibly distant and completely unattainable.
Today, VR channels its fictional predecessor. It provides the special armor during medical surgical training and preparations for complex surgical procedures. It also taps into “supernatural” human abilities to help fight pain, regain mobility, combat severe neurological conditions. The early evidence in VR implementation studies offers a game-changing trajectory in the health care field development: from diagnosis techniques to treatment plans.
VR in surgery
Although 3D visualization in the medical field is hardly a new idea, the recent decade’s advancements in computing power have made the imagery much more realistic. 3D models of patients’ anatomy are created using CT and MRI images. As Dr. Anthony Azakie describes, “you can basically walk through the structure, peeling apart parts so you can look at exactly what you want to.” In preparation for surgery, he said it “helped minimize the number of surprises that we were potentially dealing with.”
A separate issue that VR has the potential to transform stems from the lack of hands-on surgical training. According to statistics, around 30% of graduating medical students are incapable of performing surgery independently, even after completing residency! Virtual reality tools can expand, and substantially enhance surgical training, providing students with clinically accurate simulations and, thus, improving a first-time surgeon’s confidence in the operating room.
VR in medical diagnosis and treatment
Recent research published in the journal Brain has validated the use of VR in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Navigation impairment, an early sign of brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s, is reportedly difficult to detect and measure with traditional cognitive tests. VR navigation test exhibited better differentiation between high and low-risk patients indicating enormous implications for the use of the technology in early diagnosis.
Psychological interventions like exposure therapy, for example, are commonly prescribed for patients with PTSD and other traumatic disorders. Treatment enhanced with VR provides patients with very realistic simulations but in a controlled fashion. In other words, a therapist can ease or intensify visual stimuli associated with the traumatic event as a patient makes progress.
VR for burn victims
One of the mechanisms that render VR so effective is the way it overwhelms the brain with visual stimuli, increasing a sense of immersion and presence. This kind of distraction can alleviate physical suffering along with the associated anxiety during uncomfortable medical treatments. For instance, burn victims have had to endure some of the most painful procedures as a part of routine care and recovery. Data has shown that patients who have had a fully immersive experience, like playing the VR computer game “Snow World,” have reported 50% less pain than during regular treatments. Coupled with traditional medicinal strategy, VR technology has proven its ability to moderate the brain’s response to pain.
VR game “SnowWorld”
VR has transcended being used as just a form of entertainment and farfetched “distorted” reality. Its technology is transformational and has the capability to affect any industry, like the medical field described above. It’s amazing how far VR has come in such a short time, and it is just getting started…
Carfagno, Jack. “How Osso VR Is Reshaping the Surgical Training Process.” Docwire News, 7 May 2019, https://www.docwirenews.com/docwire-pick/future-of-medicine-picks/how-osso-vr-is-reshaping-the-surgical-training-process/.
Carfagno, Jack. “Virtual Reality May Be the Best Way to Detect Early Alzheimer’s Disease.” Docwire News, 31 May 2019, https://www.docwirenews.com/docwire-pick/future-of-medicine-picks/virtual-reality-may-be-the-best-way-to-detect-early-alzheimers-disease/.
DiGiulio, Sarah. “3 Ways Virtual Reality Is Transforming Medical Care.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 22 Aug. 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/3-ways-virtual-reality-transforming-medical-care-ncna794871.
Kenney, Timothy. “SnowWorld Melts Away Pain for Burn Patients, Using Virtual Reality Snowballs.” GeekWire, 23 Feb. 2018, https://www.geekwire.com/2018/snowworld-melts-away-pain-burn-patients-using-virtual-reality-snowballs/.
“The Case for a Course of Virtual Reality.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/virtual-reality-in-medicine.