Virtual Reality (VR) has been used in many industries, from product design to real estate. In healthcare, VR is also making waves as doctors find ways to utilize it to address some of the most challenging medical problems. The good news is that scientists and medical professionals have been continually doing R&D into how to use VR to help them train, diagnose, and treat in all kinds of situations. The following are some examples of VR being used in healthcare.
Exposure therapy is a form of treatment for patients with phobias. VR provides a safe and controlled environment to help patients overcome their fears and even practice coping strategies, as well as break patterns of avoidance. Currently, researchers at the University of Louisville are using VR to help patients deal with the fear of flying and claustrophobia.
Treatment for PTSD
VR is also being used to help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Clinics and hospitals are using VR simulations of warfare akin to Iraq and Afghanistan to treat veterans. These veterans are stuck, continually reliving the traumatic events they experienced in their line of duty, over and over again. In a safe and controlled environment, VR can allow them to learn how to deal with situations that might otherwise be triggered by behavior that could be destructive to themselves and others.
VR for Rehab
VR is also being used to help patients who sustained a stroke or head injury and have problems with balance and mobility as a result. Currently, research has shown that VR-assisted rehabilitation can help these patients regain their physical abilities at a faster pace. One study of stroke patients showed that VR-assisted rehab led to more improvements in arm and hand movement compared to conventional rehab after four weeks of therapy. Another research on patients with cerebral palsy undergoing rehab for balance problems has shown similarly successful outcomes. For now, more research is required to validate these results and make these techniques part of regular therapy.
Traditionally, training for surgeons starts with cadavers, then moving on to assisting more experienced doctors, before eventually taking over tasks and bigger portions of the surgery. VR could revolutionize surgery training by providing practice without risking the lives of real patients. For example, Stanford University has a surgery simulator with a built-in haptic feedback for those doing the training.
Advancing Autism Therapy
According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 percent of the world population has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, language and speech therapy can help improve the person’s communication abilities and social interactions. As of now, autism therapy involves face-to-face sessions with the doctor. A start-up called Florio uses VR to simplify the delivery of therapy so parents can support their children at home. Their product uses mobile VR to help autistic kids practice social interactions with virtual characters in a scene. So, instead of looking at toys on a table, the kids can see a giraffe in a virtual safari park. This will reduce the trips to the doctor’s office for sessions.