Virtual and augmented reality in healthcare

Possibilities of using VR/AR technologies for medicine

Virtual and augmented reality in healthcare

Opportunities of the use of VR and AR in healthcare

Once associated only with gaming, virtual reality technologies have quickly gained popularity in the healthcare world. Medical students use it to learn surgical skills, while experienced surgeons use them to plan complex procedures. Some physicians are exploring the use of this technology for pain relief. VR is just getting started in the healthcare industry, but headsets could soon make way into operating rooms and clinics. There are a few areas where the use of virtual and augmented reality has been found.

Learning with Virtual Reality

The first online broadcast of the operation in 360° mode was conducted by Dr. Shafi Ahmed in 2016. Now, with the help of a virtual reality camera, surgeons can broadcast operations around the world and allow medical students to be in the operating room using their VR headsets. Family members and other interested parties who wish to attend the operation can also be given access to the broadcast VR headsets.

Now virtual reality technologies allow more than just passive observation of the operation from the surgeon's point of view. It is currently possible to create surgical simulators to train surgeons and medical students. The app can also evaluate the surgical skills of users, and their clients can use this technology to train students experienced enough for hands-on training.

A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that VR trained surgeons experienced a 230% increase in overall productivity compared to their traditionally trained counterparts. VR trained surgeons also performed surgical procedures faster and more accurately.

It is also worth paying attention to augmented reality, as it is more accessible. AR visualization does not always require the purchase of equipment and can use students' smartphones. Augmented reality can be easily integrated even into current training programs as an additional source of information. A large and interactive 3D model of the organ in question, healthy or pathological, can appear when the smartphone screen is focused on illustration in the textbook.

Data visualization

Visualization helps with more than just learning. Now virtual reality technologies allow visualization of CT and MRI data of patients and thus create personalized maps for surgeons. As a result, doctors can examine the object of the upcoming operation in detail. Also, medicine is one of the areas where modern models of augmented reality glasses can really be useful. For example, during an operation, the glasses can display indicators of the patient's condition or medical history. Hands remain free, and there is no need to turn around to look at the monitors.

Rehabilitation

According to medical studies, patients perform only 30% of the required exercises during rehabilitation. And VR technology is good here. It can combine exercise and gamification to increase engagement. For example, the development of custom machine learning simulators to tailor each exercise to the therapeutic needs of patients. The goal is to make exercise more interesting and to increase patient engagement.

Another example is the use VR headsets with brain imaging to help stroke victims recover from injury. This technology has also been used to relieve phantom pain in amputees. Such methods have proven to be effective. In a published study, researchers found that children with cerebral palsy experienced a significant improvement in their mobility after VR therapy. The authors of this study also called for adding this method to conventional rehabilitation methods to improve outcomes.

Virtual reality technology allows physiotherapists and neurologists to make the therapy process interesting and, most importantly, more effective than conventional exercises. Also, some virtual reality VR devices can even track the quality of a patient's activity, monitor, and quantify progress. Even more surprisingly, therapy with VR games motivates patients much more than regular physical exercise.

Earlier studies with patients suffering from gastrointestinal, cardiac, neurological, and postoperative pain have shown a reduction in their pain levels when VR is used to distract them from painful stimuli.  Interacting with VR, people get the illusion of immersion in a virtual environment. This process requires a lot of attention and brain resources. We feel less pain because our brains and attention are spent interacting with the virtual reality world.

Increasing empathy

Sometimes younger doctors and caregivers respond to the needs of their older patients in the wrong way because they don't feel what their patients feel. Because of the inexperienced sense of old age and its attendant problems, it is not always easy for young doctors to recognize the symptoms and understand their client. But virtual reality makes it possible to be in the place of a person with a particular disease.

The University of New England tested this theory by incorporating virtual reality modeling of age-related conditions into its medical school curriculum. Participating students were found to have a better understanding of such conditions and their empathy for the elderly increased.

Another university that has explored the potential of virtual technologies in medical education is the University of Michigan. Students at this university used the VR app to practice their communication skills with a virtual person, that proved to be very helpful in delivering difficult news.

Conclusion

Virtual reality is a rapidly evolving technology. New powerful VR headsets and innovative software are released every year. The potential of virtual reality has not yet been fully disclosed, and for its wider distribution in medical institutions, it is necessary to change the attitude towards it. Doctors and patients need to be open to these changes in order for this to happen.

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