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Virtual Reality in Healthtech Industry

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When you think of Virtual Reality, you rarely think of it being used in a deeply human space like healthcare. Traditionally healthcare has been considered the domain of humans because qualities like empathy are of paramount importance. Yet, there is a growing application for Virtual Reality in the sector. Virtual Reality can be put to use for various purposes in the health tech industry including surgery simulation, phobia treatment, skill training, relaxing patients, conducting medical conferences, and much more. Here we go into details about a few of the applications for Virtual Reality in the Healthtech industry.

Surgery simulation in medical training and education

VR is currently being used for medical education and training at major hospitals around the world. Healthtech VR products help medical students and physicians learn through 3D interactive content and 360-degree videos. Students can get familiar with various highly skilled surgical procedures and practice them in a relatively safe environment. They can even receive usability feedback from the system on how to improve their skills. Much like how airline pilots have to spend many hours flying planes on simulators before they are allowed to fly a real plane, this technique will skill medical personnel in a zero-risk environment and make sure they are completely ready to operate thereby reducing technical errors and saving lives.

Skills training to tackle real-world responses to patient behavior

Learning other skills that are traditionally considered “soft skills” is also possible through VR. One example of this is practicing empathy. Medical students generally do not have too much practice with delivering bad news to patients or exercising empathy. These are skills that are usually learned on the job. But researchers have developed VR technology that lets students talk to emotive computer-based artificial humans who display the full range of patient behavior in response to what the student is saying. Students can thus try having these difficult conversations artificially and develop techniques on how to do them better in the real world. VR is also being used in nursing for similar purposes.

Robotic surgery for higher precision and faster turnaround

Robotic surgery has been around for a while now and is becoming more common after gaining the trust of the medical community. Here the surgery is performed via a robotic device which is controlled by a human surgeon. Not only does robotic surgery reduce time, but it also reduces the risk associated with surgical complications because of its precise nature. It is also less invasive than surgeries performed by human doctors because the incisions are very small. The robot has a force feedback system that helps surgeons measure the amount of pressure that needs to be applied. Robotic surgery is used to perform all kinds of operations from prostate removal to dentistry.

VR-based pain management systems as a drug-free alternative

VR is being used effectively to help patients manage their pain and distract them through painful procedures. It provides a drug-free alternative to pain management by using cognitive distraction methods like interactive gaming. These games played in a simulated environment force the user to pay attention to something else other than the pain they feel since they have to interact with the system. The best part is that this technique does not need to be used in a clinical setting and can be employed even in a patient’s home to help them relax. VR-based pain management has been used to treat burn victims, patients with missing limbs, and even mothers giving birth.

VR-based simulations for phobia treatment

VR is used in phobia treatments to help patients get rid of their fears. It is used to create an immersive experience for the patients where they are confronted by their fears in the form of a recreated artificial environment. Patients can then interact with this environment in the comfort of the doctor’s office, knowing that the situation isn’t real. This technique is called exposure therapy. The simulated environment can get progressively scarier for the patient and help them to overcome their trauma step by step. Then when confronted with such an experience in real life, the patients will already have built a tolerance for the fear and it won’t affect them as much. This technique has been applied all over the world to treat various phobias like the fear of heights, flying, needles, various animals, public speaking, and even agoraphobia and PTSD.

Cost-effective VR-based rehabilitation and physical therapy

VR can turn rehabilitation into a fun and compelling experience instead of the painstaking and repetitive process it usually is. Neurological impairments can affect parts of the body making it hard to do any task that relies on a combination of motor actions. Like reading a book or picking up an object. Usually, rehabilitation or physical therapy is expensive, time-consuming, and requires an authorized physician to be present. But with the introduction of VR in physical rehabilitation, this process is being made more fun. VR reduces the cost of rehabilitation and can be done from the patient’s home without the presence of a licensed physician. Through a series of interactive activities and games, it encourages patients to move around and engage with virtual objects. It is especially useful for lower limb therapy which engages patients to try their hardest to move their legs. It is a valuable addition to conventional rehabilitation therapies.

Expanded scope of discussion and engagement at medical conferences

Traditionally medical conferences are boring affairs that a doctor must attend to keep abreast of the new developments in his or her field. But they don’t have to be. These conferences can be made more engaging with the use of VR. And the more engaging a learning session is, the more a person ends up learning. Instead of lecturers standing in front of slide decks with bullet points, they can use VR combined with the 3D visualization of the topic they are talking about or interactive gamification to help the audience learn by doing. This will increase audience engagement with the topic and make it more of a back and forth.

Human-centric palliative and hospice care

VR can be used in palliative and hospice care for those patients who are bedridden or not expected to recover from their illness. Hospice care usually involves taking care of a patient’s emotional and spiritual needs before they pass. A lot of these patients have last wishes involving travel. With VR these patients can visit the places they always wished to see and immerse themselves somewhere other than their hospital bed. These techniques have been shown to lift the spirits of the patients and give them some comfort in their last days.

Conclusion: Bringing ‘care’ to Healthcare technologies

Unlike other areas of industry and commerce that have been revolutionized by VR, the scope and application of the technology in Healthcare has raised more than a few eyebrows. Experimentation aside, the primary function of healthcare is to impart the latter part of the word, i.e., to impart care. Although the use of Virtual Reality in Healthtech is not widespread yet, people are becoming more aware of its various important applications and realizing its potential. The above-listed points are just a few ways in which VR can be used in healthcare, but the promise of the technology is endless. The next few years in this space are expected to have many exciting developments.

Originally published at https://www.onething.design on March 12, 2021.


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