VR in medicine: how technology helps heal people
Virtual reality is not only about video games, porn and other entertainment (although they act as a “locomotive” pulling the entire industry with it). It is also the saved lives of people whom doctors were able to help thanks to VR technologies.
Let’s see how far VR has progressed and in which areas of medicine it is already being applied.
VR therapy after strokes
After a stroke, many people only partially regain their physical activity. The rehabilitation process can take years. At the Spanish University of Pompeu Fabra, they figured out how to speed up this matter: the patient is shown on the screen outstretched arms, which he can control like his own with the help of sensors.
Virtual hands are tuned so that they act faster and more accurately than real ones, and this difference is faintly visible to the naked eye. Already after a 10-minute session, the patients of such “conducting” begin to use the paralyzed limb more often, which leads to an accelerated recovery of motor functions. The MindMaze program, which helps patients with neurorehabilitation, works in a similar way.
According to existing statistics, in 30% of cases, virtual reality helps better than traditional methods. And this figure will only grow.
You will not find people who want to get under the “knife” of an inexperienced neurosurgeon with fire during the day. To solve this problem, the NeuroVR simulator was created, on which novice specialists hone their skills without harm to the health of patients.
And the broadcasting of operations using virtual reality not only allows doctors from all over the world to gain experience, but in case of difficulty, get advice from a more experienced surgeon, regardless of where he is.
So, in April 2016, Dr. Shafi Ahmed removed an intestinal tumor at the Royal Hospital in London, broadcasting the operation on the Internet.
Removal of intestinal tumor. Not to look nervous!!!
In the same year, doctors from the French University Hospital of Angers removed a brain tumor for the first time in the world using VR devices during surgery.
The dentist is a very responsible profession that requires certain skills. And it’s better not to hone these skills on living people. So in one of the New York medical colleges, Weill Cornell, there is a department with various VR simulators, including a dentist simulator. It can be assumed that such a device will save many patients from pain.
Depression, all sorts of addictions, PTSD, phobias, neuroses, psychosis – the number of patients with such ailments is growing every day. It is in this area that virtual reality treatment is most effective.
Dr. Albert Rizzo of the University of Southern California and Virtually Better engineers invented the Bravemind device to treat PWS patients. According to the doctor, virtual reality has helped patients where conventional therapy was powerless.
And so that doctors can understand the condition of patients with schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders accompanied by changes in consciousness, the Mindscape application from Viscira was developed. Thus, the doctor “turning” into a patient and understanding his feelings, will be able to more effectively treat the latter. It’s funny that such ideas (albeit related to dentistry) slipped from the Soviet science fiction writer Kir Bulychev.
VR technologies are also used for social adaptation of autists. With their help, various simulations with the participation of patients are played over and over again, allowing them to understand how best to behave in a given situation.
There are publicly available applications that can help you overcome your fear of heights or arachnophobia (called exposure therapy). For example, a patient is in contact with a virtual spider, which gets closer and closer with each session. A person gets used to it and ceases to be afraid of him. VR is also effective in treating paranoia and anxiety disorders.
It would seem that virtual reality, due to the imperfection of VR headsets, should, on the contrary, worsen vision. This is partly true, but VR helps to cope with some specific eye conditions, such as amblyopia (“lazy eye”). With this disease, one eye, for some reason, works worse, and the brain stops receiving signals from it, shifting all the work to the other.
Programmer James Blaha has created a game called Vivid Vision to improve this situation. The game is already being used in hospitals. Any Vive, Rift and GearVR owner can also download it.
In addition, not so long ago, Microsoft introduced a VR system for the blind, which allows blind people to navigate in space.
Many people with serious injuries or illnesses have to stay in hospital for months. And if we are talking about some provincial town, then the level of the hospital leaves much to be desired. To brighten up the stay of patients, you can use a VR headset, which will allow a person to be transported to almost any place on the planet where a panoramic camera is installed.
For example, the VisitU program is designed for children, which allows them to see everything that happens in the classroom or, for example, in their home, while in a hospital bed. This allows you to relieve the child’s psyche and distract him from the hospital atmosphere.
VR 3D diagnostics
Virtual reality facilitates the process of diagnosing diseases: using ultrasound, tomography and X-rays, data is collected, which is then converted into a three-dimensional model of the damaged organ. Then, doctors can examine a 3D model of the problematic organ from all angles, without losing sight of anything important.
For example, using the Stanford Virtual Heart program, developed by the Stanford University School of Medicine, students study the work of the heart and identify possible defects. It is much more efficient and cheaper than using plastic models.
VR pill for pain
Virtual reality works just as well, and sometimes even better than strong painkillers. For example, in the burn department of Loyola University Hospital in Illinois, VR technology has been in use for several years.
During treatment, patients play the SnowWorld VR game. Here, the sick are required to throw snowballs at snowmen and penguins: the action takes place in a fictional snowy country. Such a contrast makes it possible to practically feel the winter cold: as shown by MRI studies, at this time patients do not pay attention to pain.
And the companies KindVR, Oncomfort have developed several VR applications designed to pay off the pain syndrome of cancer patients. A person in virtual reality dives to the bottom of the sea or travels to different countries. As a result, the time to concentrate on pain in such patients decreased by 48% (with the use of opioid pain relievers – by only 10%).
Phantom MD app helps people suffering from pathological pain syndrome. Phantom pains subside after the patient in virtual reality can see the missing part of the body.
VR diabetes treatment
Diabetes Voyager takes a journey through the heart, brain, and circulatory system of a diabetic, essential for student learning. And the VRDiabeti Game serves to teach diabetic children 5-12 years old how to properly undergo medical procedures and eat.
Alzheimer’s VR Treatment
Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of people around the world and the number of cases is growing every day. The use of VR technology makes it possible to partially restore nerve connections in the brain of patients. For this, patients are “brought back to the past”, and they also use applications that cause positive emotions, for example, VR-travel.
Prospects for using VR in medicine
The potential of virtual reality is gradually unfolding and it is not hard to imagine that the medicine of the future will become mostly “virtual”. If you know interesting examples of using VR in this area, then do not forget to share them in the comments.