Virtual Reality and Healthcare

Being in the technology industry, there are so many topics that came to my mind when trying to write my first tech blog post. Everything from artificial intelligence  to autonomous cars, there are so many interesting options. I could talk about mobile optimizations and driving conversions on mobile sites and apps, but I do enough of that everyday at Moovweb. Then it hit me…I had my first volunteer session for the Boost program at UC Berkeley this past week. I mentored and helped the 10th grade students with their business plans for their end of the year presentation. These high schoolers are placed into groups based on their interest (technology, entertainment, food / beverage, fashion, etc), where they brainstorm different ideas to build their businesses from. It was fitting that I was placed with the students that are interested in tech. My group pitched me a virtual reality headset specific for the healthcare industry. I was very impressed with what they presented; they are an incredibly smart group. This aligns perfectly with what my site is all about, marrying healthcare with cutting edge technology.

Let’s not confuse virtual reality with augmented reality. Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life environment or situation. It immerses the user by making them feel like they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand, primarily by stimulating their vision and hearing. Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it (i.e. Pokemon Go). AR is developed into apps and used on mobile devices to blend digital components into the real world in such a way that they enhance one another, but can also be told apart easily.

The use of VR headsets is growing exponentially. It has evolved from starting out as a gaming and entertainment system, and along the way it has picked up various application uses. None more important than for the use in healthcare. My first thought was VR headsets can be used for doctors and medical students to to train and practice difficult procedures. With visual simulation combined with force-feedback technology, the user could experience both visual and physical feedback when practicing a surgery. Training medical professionals is expensive, and there is limited time and space for trainees to witness surgery themselves. There have been surgeons that performed procedures, and the whole operation was broadcast live through virtual reality.

Medical professionals learning a neurological procedure.

Medical professionals learning a neurological procedure.

There are other areas within healthcare that can benefit from VR. VR can be used to treat neurological disorders. VR simulators have been used to treat patients with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), patients with severe pain, phobias, and cognitive disorders. Clinicians expose their patients gradually to stimuli that trigger their traumatic stress responses, allowing them to help the patients recover.

For preventative medicine, VR can be used to help educate users on the effects of poor life choices, including smoking, overeating and eating unhealthy foods, and drug usage. Studies found that virtual reality to be much more effective than educational pamphlets or videos at getting the message across and prompting behavior change. The brain experiences and processes a virtual-reality scenario in the same way it does a real experience. Virtual reality researchers have shown that letting people experience the future today makes them more likely to change present-day behaviors.

VR is still in its early stages. This is just scratching the surface with the possibilities in the medical field. Cost and public buy in is necessary for it to gain traction. But smart, adaptive virtual simulations that learn as a patient interacts with it will revolutionize decentralized patient-focused care and fundamentally change the way healthcare is delivered. I envision doctors using virtual reality headsets to perform live procedures from anywhere. This would not be virtual reality anymore, but instead using the headsets to help perform operations from remote locations. They would virtually control robots that can operate in their place. This has the possibility to bringing specialist from all over the world to help treat people in different locations.

Doctors will be able to perform procedures and control robots as if they were playing a video game.

Doctors will be able to perform procedures and control robots as if they were playing a video game.

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