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Virtual Reality Healthcare: The New Breakthrough in Medicine

04/11/2016
Virtual Reality Healthcare: The New Breakthrough in Medicine

Future belongs to virtual reality. This statement is not a subject of discussion anymore.  The question still is: will VR remain an expensive toy or will it become a powerful tool for various branches of human activity? Actually, it already has become, and is widely used in business, education, military and medicine. Virtual reality healthcare is a highly prospective branch with great potential!

Virtual reality was first considered to be the new gaming technology. But it has proved the capability to innovate other branches of our everyday life. Besides games, it got strongly accustomed in live events, movies and TV shows streaming, design and architecture, industry and military. What is even more important, VR brings innovations to medicine, bringing the branch to a completely new level.

The use of virtual reality healthcare in surgery
The use of virtual reality healthcare in surgery

Have you ever believed that something virtual, something, you cannot even touch will become the best medicine?

VR healthcare could have been a fiction decades ago, but in the 21st century it is the reality. We can now witness the great breakthrough of virtual reality in medicine. Saving lives, minimizing suffering, treating diseases, teaching future doctors – this is what VR is now successfully doing.

Just one example. Imagine a patient with burn severity. Every time his bandage is being replaced, he suffers incredible pain. Medications can reduce pain, but have a negative impact on the internal organs. Virtual reality healthcare offers an efficient and safe solution. The patient wears the VR glasses and virtually travels to the fantastic worlds, enjoys the top sightseeing destinations or theater performances. Surrounded by the beauty of nature and art, the patient can relax during the painful procedure. VR in medicine performs as a distractor and relieves pain.

According to the statistic, global virtual reality healthcare market will reach $641 million by 2018 and $3,8 billion by 2020. The reason for such growth is the rapid technology development and efficient contribution to the medical IT sphere.

Estimated market of virtual reality
Estimated market of virtual reality

Virtual reality healthcare application development

Virtual reality expanded to various medical disciplines. Among others, these are psychotherapy, rehabilitation, practice, surgery, dentistry.

You may ask, how can virtual reality treat? Let’s find out!

Relief of pain sensation

Let’s first return to our previous example. Rehabilitation after difficult injuries and burns is always long and painful. To minimize pain, especially during bandaging, doctors prescribe heavy medications. This doesn’t make the procedure more pleasant. But virtual reality healthcare does. Unlike the painkillers, which affect the health of the patient, VR is completely safe and has the positive impact on the mood.

The patient has to wear the headset, which brings him to a completely different world. He just gets pleasure from sightseeing. Snowy peaks, mountain lakes, ancient temples. VR app works as a distraction. The patient can concentrate on the sightseeing and not the pain. Therefore, the pain sensation is much lower with no harm for the health.  

Virtual reality healthcare applications for pain relief have proven their effectiveness. They allow to reduce heavy drugs consuming and to make painful procedures a bit more pleasant.

What are the requirements for a pain relief app?

A video game SnowWorld is one of such healthcare applications. Developed at the University of Washington, it shows encouraging results in pain relief.

The gameplay allows to play snowballs in winter settings. The player confronts penguins and snowmen and feels that much involved in the game, that his pain sensation is reduced. The game in the snow world is even more efficient for patients with burn injuries.

Besides the games, there are different types of apps, that can replace painkillers. This can be for example sightseeing apps or live streaming apps. The main idea of such software is to involve the patient another reality and distract him from the painful procedures.

Use of virtual reality healthcare apps

Virtual reality and exposure therapy

Professor Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director of Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technology received a reward Pioneer in Medicine for the contribution to virtual reality healthcare. Under his guidance the institute developed the unique technology, combining VR and exposure therapy. It is mostly used among former soldiers, who suffer the post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The essence of the therapy is the patient’s full immersion in the situation from the past. When we are talking about therapy for soldiers, the application typically models the warfare situations.

For example, a former special soldier forces who survived the war thinks he hasn’t done enough to save his friend’s life. These thoughts destroy his life and ruin the relationship with other people. With the help of virtual reality healthcare therapy, he can virtually return back to the day when the tragedy happens. The app reproduces the scene in details and the patient realizes he did his best and even more to save the friend from the combat. He can calm his conscience and return to the normal life in the peaceful environment.

This is a special opportunity for the soldiers to immerse their memories. This is sometimes the most efficient or the only one way to work over the trauma.

Virtual reality to defeat phobias

Treatment of phobias with virtual reality healthcare applications is very similar to the exposure therapy described above. Under the supervision of the therapist, the patient immerses the virtual environment. In a completely safe situation he can face his fears.

Phobia of public speaking, for example, is successfully treated with the VR app. The patient is placed in a virtual room with an audience, where he has to overcome his fear.

Any phobia influences the quality of life of the patient, causing panic attacks and unnatural behavior in everyday situations. To return such people to normal life, many kinds of exposure therapies have been created. But phobia treating with virtual reality proved to be one of the safest, fastest and most efficient ones.  

The Virtual Reality Medical Center in the USA specializes in phobia and other disorders treatment only with means of virtual reality. That sounds incredible, but in this facility fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of thunderstorms, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, social phobia, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder due to motor vehicle accidents are treated with just virtual reality healthcare.

Such approach teaches the patient to control his emotions towards the object of fear.

A successful example is the virtual reality app Arachnophobia. Unlike many other apps for medical purposes, it is available for private use as well.

Virtual robotic surgery

The use of virtual reality in surgery can’t be overestimated. Nowadays this technology helps to proceed the precise invasive operations.

The operation is actually performed by a robot, which is controlled by a human surgeon. Virtual reality healthcare allows the surgeon to see everything, what a small device “sees”, to make instant decisions and to perform accurately. Moreover, the device enables to adjust the pressure to use while operating. It helps to perform delicate operations with less risk for the patient.

Virtual and augmented reality assissting in surgery
Virtual and augmented reality assissting in surgery

Virtual reality in medicine trains medical staff

The topic of medical education and training is often discussed on different levels. The message is always the same. Students need more practise, more actual information, more collaboration with colleagues and so on. Yes, you guessed right. We think that virtual reality can solve most of the problems of modern medical education.

Psychiatrist education

The problem of psychiatrist education is the lack of understanding of the patient’s problems. How does he feel like? What are his thoughts? Why he behaves like this?

Of course, none can feel what the psycho feels. But virtual reality healthcare can allow the future doctors to walk in their patient’s shoes.

VRSanity is the schizophrenia simulator in virtual reality. It enables to see the world through the eyes of the person who suffers from this disease.

No doubt, such apps allow the students to truly understand all the struggles of the patient and to find the appropriate treatment.

“To understand the patient, one must cognize the world though his eyes”

Dentistry

The University of Aachen has a great virtual reality healthcare application to train future dentists. Students train to make local anesthesia. According to the scan, the hardware simulates different parameters of tissues. Therefore, the student can feel the feedback of the tissue on the injection. This is a great way to train in the virtual environment. The students get the possibility to gain experience and then to go and feel confident in work with the patients.

First aid

First aid is something not just medical students should learn. The basic procedure of the first aid is the cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR for short. You all probably learned it at school, but only a few of you ever used this skill in real life. But once it could save a life!

CPR is not just a skill for doctors. And it requires a lot of practice to perform it right. Students are taught it using the mannequins. But the age of technology offers some better solution. You guessed right, it is virtual reality in medicine

The student trains to perform CPR in the conditions, that are very close to the real ones. He immerses the 360-degree 3D environment. He can use AED, to check the pulse perform compressions, and even provide rescue breath.

The app models different situations when the user has to rescue someone. This app ensures that the doctors don’t get embarrassed when it comes to first aid in real life.

image by THINKMOBILES

Speaking about virtual reality healthcare, we can not assume that VR may replace traditional therapy or medical education, as well as the doctors. This branch has a great potential to make their work easier and more efficient.

The benefits of implementing VR in medicine are clear. But how much does it cost? We are preparing our next copy on the development cost of mobile and virtual reality applications in medicine. Subscribe to our blog to receive our latest updates.

If you are interested in development costs right now, check out our article How much does VR application development cost. It gives an overview of the development process and allows you to make a rough estimation of your app idea.

How can my medical facility benefit with VR? Learn more.

Find out about some successful examples of virtual reality applications in medicine and mobile health apps. This could be a great inspiration for developing your own solutions for virtual reality healthcare!