While AR and VR have been undeniably making waves in the games and entertainment industry, another area that has embraced these technologies with open arms has been that of healthcare. Thanks to recent and ongoing technological advances – such as those within the realm of wearables and head-mounted displays – doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are beginning to utilize AR and VR in a variety of ways to complement and build upon their skills and services.
Google Glass’ impact on healthcare
Google Glass, a head-mounted display in the form of a pair of glasses, was released to the public in 2014 to much furor. The healthcare industry was quick to adopt the wearable, as it was lightweight and offered a quick and efficient way of accessing useful information. Although the widespread adoption of the device is still ongoing, Google Glass is being used both in and out of the operating room – for example, bringing up patient information quickly, viewing CT and X-ray images on the fly, performing video consultations, and remotely assisting patients. It has also been introduced as an effective tool for education such as for improving the patient experience, as well as for medical students to supplement traditional lectures and classes.
VR and AR for mental health
VR and AR, particularly VR, are beginning to be used more frequently by psychologists and mental health care professionals in particular due to the instant immersion that they can provide. Immersion therapy is used to help patients experiencing mental illnesses such as psychosis and paranoia, as well as those who experience phobias that affect their everyday life. We recently interviewed Dutch psychologist Roos Pot-Kolder, who uses VR to place patients in situations that they experience trouble with in real life, such as riding a bus or an elevator, and she mentioned how effective the treatment was in helping patients get used to them and reduce anxieties. VR has also been used for treating posttraumatic stress disorder, in particular for members of the military!
VR and medical education
In August 2016, British surgeon Dr. Shafi Ahmed performed the world’s first live streaming of an operation, which was viewable online for both medical students and the general public. The event showcased how VR can be used for the education of medical students – instead of watching from the sidelines, they can see first-hand what the surgeon is doing as he operates. In addition to watching on, software has also been developed that allows for medical students to operate on virtual patients using true-to-life procedures and equipment all within VR. VR can also be used to help develop bedside manner by putting students in the place of patients virtually, as well as complement textbooks with life-scale interactive anatomical diagrams and figures.
VR and the management of pain
Studies have proven that virtual reality is an effective way of both distracting and even reducing the pain of patients, and a number of facilities are beginning to introduce VR software specifically designed for this purpose. Companies such as AppliedVR have created virtual environments that help to relieve the pain and stress that come with undergoing surgery or medical procedures, such as relaxing beaches and mini-games. More specific software, such as ‘SnowWorld’ which is designed to distract burn victims as they have their dressings changed, and virtual meditative walk scenarios for sufferers of chronic pain, are also being produced.
AR for spinal surgery and beyond
The Microsoft HoloLens, although still in its infancy, is already proving to be set to become an essential tool for doctors and surgeons in the years to come. A notable example is that of two Brazilian surgeons who have created a way of using the device to assist in spinal surgery – a 3D CT scan can be viewed at any time, along with an accurate 3D model which helps with the placement of screws in the spine. AR is set to become an important technology for surgeons as it becomes more sophisticated over time and allows them to view patient information and renderings of specific body parts within the operating room.
As VR and AR technology advances, so too will its place within the field of medical science. While most of how they are being used currently is experimental, VR and AR as a whole is moving forward at a rapid pace and it won’t be long before it becomes second-nature for health care professionals to call upon.