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From the boredom to the loneliness and constant worry about your health, an extended hospital stay can be quite rough. Virtual reality is already in use in hospitals across the country to help patients enjoy more comfortable long-term stays. With VR, patients can escape the hospital to travel to destinations they may not be physically capable of visiting. VR headsets can also connect to 360-degree cameras in patients’ homes. This can make patients feel like they are back home with their families, even if just for a short while. This type of escape is especially useful in children’s wards. As hospital stays are understandably harder on the younger members of our society.
For some patients suffering from chronic pain or trauma to the body virtual reality could offer an alternative pain prescription. For example, the Virtual Reality Research Centre at the University of Washington are starting to prescribe virtual reality to help reduce the pain for chronic burn victims. Despite these victims being on strong pain medication, it is not enough. Burn recovery for these patients is abnormally painful. In recovery, it is necessary for them to have the torturous removal of their dead skin. Virtual reality can be used to distract patients from the pain and as a result, offer them more relief than medication alone.
General practitioners’ offices are under more pressure than ever before. As our population ages, more and more people need access to quality healthcare on a regular basis. Many practices are finding themselves over-worked and under-staffed, leaving many patients without access to the care that they need. Virtual appointments aim to address this issue by letting patients get in touch with doctors online, from the comfort of their own homes. This technology is only in its infancy. It is likely that future developments will allow patients to photograph or record their symptoms using 3-D cameras. Doctors could then view a simulated re-creation of that symptom. Being in 3-D, and having sensors to measure the patient’s emotions may enable a more accurate diagnosis.
Virtual Reality Counselling
Virtual reality and counselling is another exciting area of technology advancement in healthcare. For example, patients with a phobia of public speaking can now learn skills to improve their confidence is a virtual environment. This now offers the patient a similar situation than the one they fear, but without any of the external pressures of the real environment. The use of virtual reality and counselling is also applicable to patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One clear example of this is soldiers who served on the frontlines of war. With virtual reality, patients can be thought skills to overcome their trauma in a safe virtual environment.
Surgical training is, perhaps, the most exciting application of VR in healthcare. In the past, surgical trainees required the use of cadavers to practice their skills. It also required years of training before they could perform on on actual patients. Understandably the risk involved is just too high. In a simulated surgical environment, students can have the chance to practice without any risk to patients. Students are now able to observe complex operations performed by expert surgeons in a 3D environment. This enables a better learning experience and access to some of the best surgeons in the world. Traditionally this type of training would not be logistically possible for most surgical students. But now with VR, this can be accomplished a lot easier.
Medicine schools are not the only area where there is an increase in uptake. Virtual reality can now be used to teach a range of procedures for Dentists. From working on a 3D set of teeth to performing a root canal, virtual reality can considerably improve the training experience. For example, the virtual drill for performing a filling replicates the pressures and movements of a real drill. This feedback could enable the student to adjust their technique before the even get to a real patient.
Medical Training Retention Levels
Both in surgical and dentistry training, this interactive experience is allowing trainee medical professionals to participate rather than merely observe. Offering students to become more engaged in the activity and as a result, could improve their learning far more. According to the CEO at Miami Childres hospital, Dr Narendra Kini, VR training has retention levels of up to 80% compared to 20% after a week of conventional training.
Looking to the Future of Healthcare and VR Technology
Right now, virtual reality is assisting employee training, comforting patients and offering a new dimension to the doctor-patient care. These virtual reality simulations are helping patients with conditions like phobias, severe pain, and post-traumatic stress disorders. As virtual reality technology grows more and more advanced with each passing year, its capabilities will only continue to expand. As of today, we have barely scratched the surface of what VR technology is truly capable of.
Its net benefits to modern health care have not been quantified. And VR Technology is only in its infancy. However, there are various challenges that this technology faces from more hospitals and clinical healthcare facilities to adopt its use. From the financial constraints of VR technology to the lack of research to fully prove its effectiveness. Despite this, the technology is advancing. It is no dought that these further advancements will also likely lead to even more applications in healthcare, entertainment, communications, defence, education and more. Virtual reality and technology is an exciting area of development and one that will undoubtedly have a major impact on our future.