Virtual reality is rapidly entering our lives. It is changing the way we interact, entertain and even how we are cured. This is the unique case when some tech invention is becoming that deeply implemented in healthcare as VR is. Virtual reality applications in medicine do the job any other kind of therapy couldn’t do. Reducing pain, treating phobias, training young doctors… Have you ever thought, a tiny headset could do all of this? That’s reality now.
Virtual reality applications in medicine on the way to private practices
Virtual reality in healthcare is strengthening its positions and becomes more affordable. This technology has already been used in clinics and hospitals for over 30 years. The prices for a special device for the use of virtual reality in medical field started with $30 000 and could even exceed $300 000.
The modern market of virtual reality headsets offers much cheaper devices. The price for Oculus Rift, for example, starts with $599. The low-cost Gear VR is available for already $99. At the same time, there is the possibility to develop specific software that is needed for every particular medical case. These devices are more likely to be used in private medical practices.
Virtual reality applications in medicine become more diverse. They can be tailored to the needs of private practitioners and state hospitals. Moreover, they allow to find the personal approach to each patient.
Mobile health applications are also being used for medical purposes and help to increase clinic’s ROI. They are aimed to improve patient’s satisfaction and reduce the paperwork. Compared to them, virtual reality applications in medicine solve more complex problems. Sometimes they even play the key role in the treatment of different diseases.
What are the virtual reality applications in medicine?
The most popular types are:
- virtual medical games
help to relieve pain or quickly succeed in rehabilitation;
- immersive virtual environment
treatment of psychological disorders and phobias;
- virtual reality surgery simulator
a tool to teach and train medical students.
Are you still having any doubts concerning the use of VR in your medical facility? Keep reading to find out which problems can virtual reality applications in medicine solve.
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VR apps for meditation
Yoga and meditation often act as a mild therapy for treatment of different mental and physical disorders. It can bring a handful of advantages like:
- Balancing heart rate and blood pressure;
- Helping to cope with anxiety and depression;
- Revealing hidden resources of the human body.
These effects are possible due to full relaxation and special breathing techniques. There is only one problem. Yoga breathing is exceptionally hard to learn. And even harder to keep the rhythm when relaxed.
Everyone who has ever tried yoga breathing knows the problem. It is hard to focus on your breathing and to keep it rhythmic and relaxed. Innovators now struggle about inventing the best way to teach this technique in the easiest and most natural way.
What if I told you that the perfect solution has already been found? I am talking about virtual reality applications in medicine. Among the virtual medical games we chose one. It aims to help the patients with unobtrusive relaxing and improving yoga breathing technique.
Deep VR is an interactive virtual reality application controlled by breathing. The app is run on a virtual reality headset. With its help, the patient can fully immerse and explore the mysterious undersea world. The entertaining format of the app helps to relax. Acquiring the skill of controlled breathing is a nice bonus.
The Deep VR controller is a kind of a belt with a monitor. It measures the diaphragm expansion to identify deep breathing. Using different types of breathing the patient can move through the highly realistic undersea world and explore hidden spaces.
Deep VR is a classic example of virtual reality applications in medicine. It was initially created for private use. Soon it turned out to be a very efficient mean of cure and successfully expanded to other practices and clinics.
Efficient mental disorders treatment
When it comes to mental disorders, psychotherapy is the most spread treatment. It explores the inner state of the patient, trying to transform his feelings and thoughts. Virtual reality comes as an excellent tool to improve the efficiency of psychotherapy. The potential of VR apps in healthcare allows to cure various mental diseases.
Posttraumatic stress disorder is not that rare, as it was some ten years ago. PTSD can be caused by any life-threatening experience. The symptoms can be quite different:
- Avoiding talking or even thinking about the painful experience. Avoiding places, things or people that are
- somehow connected to these memories.
- Unwanted repeated thoughts about the event that caused the disorder.
- Repetitive negative thoughts, steady negative emotions.
- Aggressive behavior.
PTSD is the sphere of psychology and psychotherapy. The classical treatment of this disorder is talking therapy. Its aim is to return the patient to the painful situation that has caused his disorder. But this couldn’t work in every particular case. Some patients were not able to relax and immerse their memories. Sometimes the brain blocked the information connected to the accident. So the patient couldn’t live that situation again. The success of the therapy was under question.
With the technical revolution came the perfect solution for this medical problem. We are talking about the virtual reality applications in medicine. They allow to immerse the situations from the past without the need to strain the mind. It easily lets the patient relax and focus on the treatment of his disorder. The use of VR in medicine, particularly in psychotherapy can reduce the duration of the therapist’s consultations and increase the efficiency of such treatment.
One of the great examples of VR in medicine is the project Bravemind. It aims to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 60 facilities all over the world already use this application. These are first of all hospitals, universities and military bases.
Using the VR headset, the patient can confront the traumatic experience under the supervision of his therapist. Tailored software gives the possibility to build and change landscapes and scenarios. The patient can immerse the highly realistic situation reminding him his past experience.
This kind of virtual reality applications in medicine for PTSD treatment foresees unique challenges and unique patient cases. So, besides the hard- and software of a high quality, a well-trained medical staff is essential.
The efficiency of PTSD treatment with VR is significantly higher. The therapy becomes less time consuming. This is also a clear profit for the patient and his therapist.
Another field, where virtual medical games can augment and even replace traditional therapy is depression treatment among teenagers.
Researchers prove, that around a quarter of young people suffer from depression and other mental disorders. They never complain and prefer to stay with their problem alone.
Main symptoms of such disorders are:
- Emotional changes
Sadness, hope- and helplessness, frustration, sensitivity, irritable and annoyed mood;
- Behavioral changes
Changes in sleeping and eating habits, loss of energy, possible consumption of alcohol and drugs, self-harm.
Untreated depression among teens can lead to drug and alcohol addiction. Some cases even end up with a suicidal attempt.
Teenager depression is really dangerous. This is a very sensitive age. Work with teenagers requires personalized approach in every particular case. The medical 3D game SPARX makes such an attempt.
SPARX was developed at the university of Auckland. This is not just a game, but the result of long-time analysis and deep researches. The virtual medical game has quite an interesting scenario. The player has to move through the 3D world, complete quests and confront his own GNATs – Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts. The patient learns how to fight his depressive thoughts in the entertaining and involving way. The use of such virtual reality applications in medicine has one great advantage. It is not perceived as a therapy. That’s why this medical game has gained popularity among teenagers.
Such an innovative treatment method attracted the views of the scientists. Researchers claim every third patient recovers from depression after playing SPARX. Nearly the same result shows the traditional treatment. However, there is one point where SPARX is better. 44% of players achieve remission, compared to 26% in the traditional therapy group.
Only teenagers in New Zealand can now try SPARX out. The success of this 3D game inspire innovators from other regions to create gamified VR applications with therapeutical effect. Gaming environment involves patients, makes the therapy unobtrusive and helps to achieve better results.
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VR in medicine for people with disabilities
Virtual reality applications in medicine can improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities.
VR headsets help to train social skills among children suffering from autism. An application modells diffeіrent social situations like a job interview or a date. Young adults can learn acceptable behavior and overcome their fear of interaction.
Medical applications in virtual reality can also improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. They give diverse possibilities:
- Traveling the world;
- Swimming with dolphins;
- Flying over the clouds;
- Playing the piano.
They can live the life full of emotions and feelings, even if they can not stand up from the bed.
Virtual reality applications in medicine for pain management
VR applications have already proven their effectiveness in pain management. VR in medicine has successfully replaced heavy painkillers on some stages of medical treatment, for example, wound care.
Pain medications are not safe. They may affect heart, liver, stomach and other organs of the human body. Heavy drug consumption is also not safe for the nervous system. That is why doctors try to avoid unnecessary usage of painkillers in big doses.
In this sphere, virtual reality can really make a difference. And it already does!
SnowWorld, for example, is very popular in hospitals and clinics. It helps to distract patients during most painful procedures. Wound care among burn victims, for example.
Wearing the VR headset and the headphones the patient can immerse into the snow world. He travels through the icy canyon, faces snowmen, mammoths, penguins and throws snowballs. And this fascinating process is followed by relaxing music.
SnowWorld is among the best virtual medical games for the use in hospitals and clinics. It can fascinate the player so much, that he sometimes forgets to be on the painful procedures at that moment.
The use of pain distraction software and other virtual reality applications in medicine can be an efficient tool in pain management. It allows to decrease heavy medications consumption and avoid possible health problems connected with drug consumption.
Phobia treatment with virtual reality
Phobias are serious problems for the people who suffer from them. It is not just fear. Panic attacks or anxiety follow quite often. Can you imagine what negative impact can phobias have on people’s lives?
- Flying phobia can destroy careers. A person with that phobia has to abandon business trips and as follows the career raise ;
- Fear of dogs can ruin one’s relationship. Imagine your partner is terribly afraid of the chihuahua you love;
- Fear of public speaking can end up the career in politics at the very beginning.
Phobias can and must be treated. And VR in medicine shows its great potential in this field.
Virtual reality applications in medicine have caused the real breakthrough in phobia treatment. Placing the patient in the virtual reality environment allows him to face his fears without any danger. This is how the patient can learn to control and cope with his emotions and reactions.
Phobia treatment apps are not something you can just download in the app store and use at home. They have limited access and are developed for hospitals and medical practices.
One of the good examples of phobia treatment apps is WaspApp. Its aim is to help people fight with fear of wasps and other insects. Putting on the VR headset the patient finds himself sitting in a room with an open window. Then they start to hear and see wasps around.
With the level the number of wasps in the room increases, sometimes it even comes to interactions.
The patient can see and hear the source of his fear, but he doesn’t have to expect any danger. With such an app he learns to control his emotions towards the object of phobia.
The creators of WaspApp have announced a series of phobia treating apps in virtual reality.They are going to address the needs of the doctors and the patients.
VR for medical education
Many countries face now the problem of appropriate medical education. Most medical schools and universities still teach the future doctors using books and posters. Of course, it is impossible to explain someone how does the internal organ function, when there is only a static 2D picture of it available. Much better would be the possibility to teach anatomy with 3D visualization. And this is the branch where virtual reality applications in medicine have a great potential.
Anatomy is an illustrative science. Using old-school printing materials forces students to strengthen the power of imagination. At the same time, some medical schools start using VR to illustrate all the physiological principles and internal processes of the human body.
Modern virtual reality apps enable students not just see, but also interact with the organs and tissues in a completely new way.
The virtual dissecting table, for example, allows students to make different manipulations like:
- rotate the human body or the organs in different directions by 360 degrees;
- Separate organs from each other, identify different structures;
- Examine individual systems (digestive, circulatory, etc.);
- Travel inside of the human body and examine it.
Using virtual reality applications in medicine the process of study is fascinating and takes all attention up. The students interact with the virtual human body, take responsibility for their learning. It is like an involving video game.
zSpace & Cyber-Anatomy Med VR
The collaboration of Western University of Health Sciences and the company zSpace resulted in a virtual anatomical laboratory for students. At the university, they now can practice in the immersive virtual environment using holographic images. With zSpace users don’t have to wear headsets. VR effect is achieved with special glasses. Students will not feel isolated, as it was the case with using VR headsets. They can communicate and collaborate with each other in the real-time.
With zSpace students can explore the realistic objects, their shape and structure, interact with them. Using the stylus they can divide an image into several parts. In case of the human body, they can separate the nerves or the muscles from the skeleton.
Another player on the market of VR solutions for medical education is Cyber-Anatomy Med VR.
Both of them tend to cause the real revolution in the modern medical education. The distance between theory and practice is becoming shorter with the innovative virtual reality applications in medicine.
Virtual reality surgery simulator
When is it time to finish the education and start working in the real conditions? Students train more or less during the whole study process. But the efficiency of such practiсe is often under question.
The doctor has to gain experience in real conditions, interacting with the patients and not just reading books or watching videos.
You probably never choose to be cured by an inexperienced doctor. But here comes the problem. A thyroid surgeon, for example, is believed to be experienced after having at least 500 operations. But none wants to be among the first ones. Virtual reality can help!
VR technology, specific software and hardware offer a first class virtual reality surgery simulator. The future doctor can train, work out his skills by repeating the operation as many times as needed. And what is more important, if something goes wrong, he can not do harm to real patients.
Local anesthesia simulator RASimAs
RASimAs is a great virtual reality surgery simulator developed at the University of Aachen by scientists from different countries.
This tool scans the real data during the training process and simulates the reaction of tissues. Such tissue reaction simulations contribute to injection accuracy. The student interacts with tactile feedback devices. He learns to perceive and analyze the information by
- Seeing what happens when he turns the syringe needle;
- Checking the accuracy of hitting the right nerve;
- Testing the injection site;
- Checking the reaction of the tissues.
Some complex operations like plastic surgery require scrupulous planning and prior medical action simulation. The virtual reality surgery simulator enables “to play” the entire operation beforehand and get ready for some unpredictable scenarios.
Invasive surgery simulator SimSurgery
Invasive surgery brings challenges as well. During endoscopy within monoscopic conditions, there is no sense of the depth of the review. The perception of pictures is inverse. Something that is on the right side appears on the left and vice versa. Such operations require hundreds of repetitions until the surgeon will be able to perform without errors.
SimSurgery is a well-known producer of surgical simulation hardware and software. For more than 20 years the company is developing unique solutions for medical education facilities. It enables the students to practice in the virtual world to make fewer mistakes in the real one. Training software for virtual reality allows to adjust the exercises difficulty according to the level of the trainee.
The use of the virtual reality in healthcare is one of the best ways to train medical staff. VR in medicine provides a new opportunity to the area of simulation of surgical skills, using computers for training. The student can get practice in the virtual world, and then without the fear to do something wrong go and perform well in the real world.
The access to virtual reality applications in medicine is mostly limited. They are used in hospitals, clinics. Small private practiсes don’t have access to the specific curing software. But we also have some good news. You have the chance to build your own VR app tailored for the need of your medical facility and solving the problems of your patients and staff.
Or do you have the idea of a VR application that can change the healthcare industry forever? Be the innovator!
Also, take a look at our article about the VR application development cost. And don’t hesitate to contact us if you need assistance with the estimation of your virtual medical app.
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Additional VR/AR resources
Virtual Reality is permanently changing and there are a lot of new things to investigate. The following list below represents VR/AR resources for you to enjoy and share.