In the world of video games, virtual reality is already becoming a huge deal. When the Kickstarter for the Oculus Rift went live in 2012, it reached its $250,000 goal in less than 24 hours. However, the use of virtual reality devices is not limited to gaming. In fact, a number of industries are finding spectacular uses for the technology.
One such example is the healthcare industry.
Virtual Reality Therapy
Up to one in five people in the US alone have a diagnosable mental illness; an estimated loss of $467 billion annually in workplace productivity and medical expenses. However, virtual reality has the potential to play a large role in helping a greater number of people get the treatment they need. For instance, virtual reality is beginning to be used in exposure therapy to help individuals cope with feelings of anxiety to PTSD while remaining in a safe, controlled environment.
The use of virtual reality and other technologies, such as smartphone applications, have changed the field of social work in a number of ways by allowing these professionals to monitor their patients needs in a much more efficient manner. For example, mental health professionals can use virtual reality to help their patients deal with phobias by slowly adding exercises that increase exposure and intensity. Because what a patient sees in virtual reality can be tracked and monitored, doctors can pinpoint when patients are feeling fear and work at a level that keeps them feeling comfortable.
The calming effects of virtual reality can be used to benefit a number of patients outside of the mental health realm. In fact, it can be used to help patients preparing for a medical procedure calm their nerves before it takes place. This can result in a lower blood pressure and heart rate and can reduce the needs for local anaesthetics.
For instance, before her knee arthroscopy, Josefa Ramirez was so nervous she had requested a general anaesthetic that typically wouldn’t have been used. Instead, her surgeon suggested virtual reality as a means of calming her during the procedure. While in the operating room, she listened to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata while the virtual-reality-projected night sky lit up with fireworks and blasts of confetti.
Virtual reality isn’t only being used as a means to calm patients before examinations or surgeries either. It is also used frequently as a means of training surgeons to complete medical procedures before attempting them on a living patient. This training can be especially helpful for rare or complicated surgeries where the physician may not have as much experience.
As the physician goes through the virtual surgery, trainers can watch on a computer monitor and see what the surgeon is seeing in real time. In medical school, doing so can help identify techniques that are in need of improvement and stop bad practices before they become bad habits. Virtual reality doesn’t only provide improved methods of practice for surgeons, but also improved means of teaching them.
Treating mental health issues, calming patients pre-examination, and training our doctors are all very powerful means of utilizing virtual reality. But these are just of few of the many ways in which the technology is making its way into the healthcare industry. What others can you think of?