March 12, 2019
Gone are the days when the sight of a virtual reality headset evoked immediate associations with gaming. Since the launch of more technologically advanced models in the early 90s, the technology has evolved and settled into the mainstream.
At first, virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) was seen as a gimmick in marketing campaigns aiming to drive the attention of consumers to a certain product. Now, however, it helps create a meaningful connection in entertainment, travel and manufacturing. Many industries see the rapid development and adoption of VR/AR, and medical services is no different. No wonder some view it as a Band-Aid to heal the national healthcare system.
Education and training
The use of virtual reality could significantly improve medical education and further training - students could gain a better understanding of, and build practical skills in, surgical procedures by immersing themselves in virtual scenarios of operations, without putting patients at risk.
Also, because the technology allows the user to see the 360° perspective and interact with three-dimensional objects, it might be especially useful in other areas too, such as the teaching of basic human anatomy where it could offer an alternative to 2D illustrations and scans. Immersive reality could help users ‘view’ particular organs but could also provide better insight into diseases, as proven by a group of scientists at Cambridge University. After translating an existing sample of a tumour into the digital space, they were able to examine it in greater detail and accelerate research on cancer cells.
Supporting mental health services
Another area where computer-generated worlds can be effective is mental health. The number of people struggling with psychological problems has been on the rise in recent years, with worrying reports revealing that more and more youngsters are affected. Due to its powerful capability to create visuals and ‘replicate’ reality, VR can offer unique simulations adapted to individual symptoms. A patient enters and interacts with virtual surroundings which stimulate the senses. This therapy might be particularly successful in treating disorders such as social anxiety and PTSD, which are susceptible to external triggers.
One other advantage to the technology is that it may enable monitoring of human reactions to certain virtual situations and help gather more detailed data. Thus, the solution might soon become key in developing better treatments for patients.
Although the idea of using VR to provide high-quality care fills us with hope, we can’t ignore the barriers that may hinder the process of its adoption. The main challenge is not only obtaining necessary hardware such as headsets or haptic gloves, but also modifying the existing digital infrastructure to support those products. Implementing this technology within health services may be a financial challenge, especially for public organisations, and may take time before it’s fully integrated.
Today, the use of VR within healthcare may not be as prevalent as it is in entertainment. However, one thing is clear – this technology opens up new opportunities; embracing it may help organisations stay competitive but, more importantly, it could also help further future health services.