Ample industries have adopted VR, and so has the healthcare sector. VR has proven to be very fruitful in psychology, for example in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other medical fields have also embraced the technology. Headsets are used in medical VR, as well as 3D glasses and special video screens, to create a full-blown VR experience. The technology is used by physicians to tackle some very challenging medical problems. “We are seeing more and more of this incorporated faster than ever before,” said Dr. Ajit Sachdeva, Director of Education with the American College of Surgeons. “VR has reached a tipping point in medicine.”
Thanks to recent innovations in computing power, we now have at our disposal extremely realistic simulated images that can be quickly created. CT scans, X-rays, and MRI scans are turned into high-resolution 3D images in less than sixty seconds, explains Sergio Agirre, Chief Technology Officer at California-based EchoPixel. This company’s visualization software is used by many hospitals all over the States. “Twenty years ago, it would probably take them a week to be able to do that.” Complex procedures, such as separating conjoined twins, pose challenges that require perfect planning, and 3D visualization is proving to be a game-changer.
VR recently played an essential role in the successful separation of conjoined twins at Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. CT, ultrasound, and MRI scans were taken before surgery, and the team created two highly detailed virtual models. The team was able to look inside organs to establish any pitfalls, and could subsequently plan how to avoid these during the operation. “You look through the 3D glasses, and you can basically walk through the structure, peeling apart parts so you can look at exactly what you want to,” adds Dr. Anthony Azakie, one of the operating surgeons. The high-resolution visualization “helped minimize the number of surprises that we were potentially dealing with.”
Tranquil virtual world
VR gear is very beneficial to patients, too. They can immerse themselves in a tranquil virtual world and think of something pleasant, rather than discomfort caused by medical problems and treatments. VR has proven to reduce anxiety in cancer patients during chemotherapy infusions. It is also making kids less scared of having injections and other painful or frightening procedures. Severe burn patients experience “some of the most painful procedures in medicine,” explains Dr. Hunter Hoffman, a University of Washington scientist with expertise in using VR for pain relief. “Pain medications help, but they’re often not strong enough.” Hoffman helped create the SnowWorld VR game for these patients which has been especially designed for distracting burn patients from their pain. When patients play the game during treatment, they report up to 50 percent less pain than non-playing patients. The game is at present being tested in clinical trials worldwide.
VR furthermore assists patients with mobility and balance issues caused by head injury or stroke. “Using VR, I can control what’s going on around the patient and measure what kind of impact it’s having on that patient’s ability to change,” said Emily Keshner, a professor of physical therapy at Temple University in Philadelphia. “We expose them to this repeatedly and we give them feedback about how they can respond to prevent themselves from falling.” Research has indicated that VR-mediated rehabilitation increases the speed at which patients regain physical abilities. Keshner: “The power of VR [for therapy] is that you’re really changing the way people perceive the world. They learn how to respond. And after practicing in that virtual world, they are much more confident and capable.”