Virtual Reality Healthcare Trends
Virtual reality tends currently to focus on entertainment and gaming, but it’s a field that’s beginning to show advances into more esteemed areas such as healthcare and medicine. Already high-tech simulations are allowing surgeons and their teams to take an initial and non-invasive look at the internal workings of patients, offering realistic anatomy reviews. Patient care and interaction are also being supplemented with ‘virtual care’ which provides a form of individualized communication that reduces time pressures on healthcare providers but still offers patients a highly personal impression of the care they receive. Practitioners implementing such strategies believe they’re encouraging a partnership in which patients are better educated and act with healthcare providers to manage their health.
Existing Virtual Reality & Healthcare Collaborations
Virtual reality tools currently in place are providing healthcare providers and users with cutting-edge opportunities. Virtual surgery is used to simulate medical situations, immersing students in experiences for advanced training practices, and studies have found that such immersive training improves information retention. And in a treatment study at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden phantom limb pain, a phenomenon experienced by many amputees, is being treated with virtual reality technology that converts nerve signals into visuals. Patients have reported less pain overall and have experienced extended pain-free periods during treatment. Distraction through virtual reality programs is another area being explored, and burn victims placed in a virtual world of snow and ice have described significant pain reduction; it has also been found that levels of anesthetic can be reduced in surgeries in which patients are provided with virtual reality stimulus.
3D Images in Clinical Practice
CT and MRI scans are, in fact, volumetric sets, but so far 3D viewing has required special glasses that provide only a limited 3D effect. However, Japanese researchers have developed a new 3D display which consists of liquid and relies on lasers to create images. Tiny bubbles are generated by appropriately focused lasers which create the final image, and light beams are applied to change colors. The end result is a 3D image that can be viewed from any angle, and though the technology still has much room for improvement, it could hold great merit for future virtualizations.
Virtual Reality & Glaucoma
Tulane researchers are developing a virtual reality tool to test for glaucoma, recognizing that portable diagnostic tools can cut costs and improve delivery of healthcare. The second leading cause of blindness worldwide, glaucoma affects many people in areas without access to care, but if diagnosed early enough it’s possible to prevent blindness. Currently, the Humphrey’s Visual Field Analyser is used for glaucoma detection, testing the peripheral vision of patients, but it is an expensive and inflexible solution that doesn’t easily accommodate roving healthcare teams. The Tulane research team believes their project would provide much greater access to testing, and thus treatment, and eventually, this venture may branch out to detect other diseases too.
Detecting Mild Cognitive Impairment with Virtual Reality
A self-administered virtual supermarket cognitive training game has been demonstrated by Greek researchers as able to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Currently, those suffering from MCI might find it difficult to perform complex tasks such as financial planning, but they are also at risk of progression to dementia, and early detection allows for the appropriate intervention that can steady conditions and prevent further decline. In this most recent study, the first instance in which a self-administered virtual reality application has been able to reliably detect MCI, the need for an examiner has been eliminated as average performance for older adults is calculated using a sophisticated version of the virtual supermarket exercise.
Clearly providing us far more than gaming, virtual reality strides in healthcare show great promise and have both developers and operators eager for more.
By Jennifer Klostermann