Digital Themes

Virtual Reality (VR) in healthcare

What is virtual reality (VR) in healthcare?

Virtual reality (VR) in healthcare uses simulated reality or a 3D setting created with computer hardware or software to build a synthetic environment that aids healthcare workers and patients in perceptual experiences. VR uses technology such as head-tracked displays, goggles, and gloves that allow users to be immersed in a multisensory environment that mimics reality's sensations, depths, and visuals. VR enables users to feel simulated sensory experiences guided by changing graphics, making the brain believe the interactive visuals are real life. 

Virtual reality in healthcare has many practical uses that allow researchers, patients, and physicians to engage in new methods of learning, treating, and understanding complex health processes. For healthcare organizations, VR technology is gaining popularity due to the need for medical workers to apply medical training in real-life settings. For patients, VR can reduce burdensome and inefficient medical treatments by using powerful software and connected healthcare devices to mitigate health problems outside a clinical setting. Virtual reality can also help patients learn more about their medical conditions and apply expert guidance to increase recovery rates. 

VR in healthcare assists in the training, education, and treatment of chronic illness, mental health issues, patient management, and physical therapy.

Examples include:

  • Medical training: Medical students and practicing physicians can experience a simulated training scene that will guide them on operating medical equipment and performing operations. The virtual scenarios provide users with a risk-free training environment regarding patient health outcomes. Students must complete tasks that teach them mastery of performative skills when operating on vital organs. The virtual environment can be programmed with different cases that mimic complex surgery, giving surgeons and students in-depth experience to develop better medical skills. Training models can also be purposed to teach students about normative methods of social engagement with patients. 
  • Pain control: Patients who suffer from chronic pain can learn techniques and build mental tools that can assist them in controlling their response to discomfort. Patients can use VR to be immersed in a calming environment when suffering from a pain-induced episode. Realistic scenarios can help control mood by using positive stimuli to trigger the mind to condition itself to lessen the body's pain response. Successful application of VR for pain management can help reduce reliance on addictive painkillers. 
  • Rehabilitation:  Instructors can program virtual reality settings to guide therapeutic sessions for patients recovering from chronic disease. Physical therapy VR conducts step-by-step exercises and low-impact mobility routines that can strengthen injured muscles, tissue, and joints. Routine physical therapy can be done at home, making it easier for patients to stay on schedule and track historical data on individual progress. For neurological treatment, patients use VR to condition the mind to re-learn motor functions. Guided audio and images can train patients with an impaired speech by using repetitive dictations to re-train the mind to understand functional movement. Patients recovering from a stroke can use VR to practice specialized movements within simulated environments that ensure progress.
  • Surgical robots: Physicians can increase the outcome of successful surgeries with surgical robots. Surgical robots are programmed and directed by surgeons to operate on a nearby patient. The robot's arms can fit better within areas of the human body, like the abdomen, performing maneuvering procedures on a granular scale that reduces the risk of poor incision or rupture. A camera is mounted on the robot to provide the surgeon with an acute viewership of internal organs through a VR headset. The surgeon powers the motion of the robot, usually controlled by a parallel system, gaining precise navigation of surgical methods to increase post-operative success. 
  • Mental health therapy: VR headsets can re-train the brain to quiet overwhelming thoughts by immersing patients in meaningful environments. Therapists use psychoanalysis to understand what type of stimuli calm the patient's mind, often changing brain wiring to control the nervous system. Patients can use VR to enter simulated environments that teach how to overcome fear, i.e., of spiders or heights, and view owned graphics that slowly build mental comfort with stressful scenarios. Some VR techniques enable avatar guides that train users to approach everyday situations that trigger heightened anxiety. Patients can also use VR therapy sessions to engage in meditation or artwork, allowing the user to practice activities that otherwise would be difficult. This methodology seeks to break the anxiety cycle and decrease the need for habit-forming medication. 

The benefits of virtual reality (VR) in healthcare include the following:

  • Precision surgery: VR technology helps surgeons access areas inside the body that are operationally difficult with the human hand. A camera mounted on a VR-assisted robot or surgical arm guides the surgeon, who remotely operates the robot to perform operative tasks. Surgeons who use VR goggles have more agility to see images inside the body at different angles and on a magnified scale. Surgical operations can be conducted with more precision and tactical guidance.  
  • Progressive medical research: Researchers using VR technology can observe chemical reactions and gene behavior on a molecular level. VR provides enhanced 3D images that illustrate a live version of the object under observation. With the assistance of computer software, multiple simulations can be observed to help researchers better understand chemical and biological interactions. Cancer cells can be studied through programs powered by virtual reality, helping isolate cell behavior that drives disease onset. Researchers can create more effective drugs by understanding how mutated cells operate under multiple environments.
  • Accelerated patient care: VR technology can be used to assist physicians with real-time monitoring of patient rehabilitation. Patients can apply robotic sensors to the affected body part while their physician monitors the body movements from a remote location. This information allows physicians to tailor treatment to recovery progress. While using VR goggles, patients can engage in specialized exercises guided by their physician. VR goggles in hospitals help patients with pain management exercises or for playing games to reduce stress. Virtual programs can help patients recovering from brain trauma re-train how to perform movements and regain healthy function. 
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