4 Growing Verticals for VR and AR in the Healthcare Industry

By Nitin Goyal, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Founder & CEO at Pulse Platform. Originally published on Quora.

It was only a few years ago that virtual reality was still a sci-fi term. Maybe now you think of it as that headset your brother got for Christmas last year.

The truth is, VR has come a long way, and it’s constantly getting better. Virtual reality has evolved from your friend standing in the living room yelling, “Woah, I’m on a beach,” to having serious, real-world applications.

And many of the most exciting applications are in medicine. Doctors and patients alike are beginning to benefit from VR, and you yourself might end up using it at some point during a stay at the hospital.

Here’s why.

VR For Training

The training to become a surgeon involves a lot of observing. But it also takes plenty of doing. At some point, you have to perform the procedure yourself. You have to learn by doing. Now, that doesn’t mean we just turn inexperienced surgeons loose on patients. Instead, those surgeons spend time working on cadavers, or being guided through operations by experienced surgeons.

But what if our surgeons could see situations and deal with them virtually — before they encounter them in real life? We’ve reached the point where surgeons and physicians can use realistic simulations to prepare themselves for the real thing.

When a rare surgery is performed, only a few people get to see how it’s really done, right? But with VR, we can create a virtual experience that can be used by other surgeons. They can learn and train using this virtual experience as if they’re going through the same thing. Now anyone who needs that information and training can access it. As a surgeon, that’s pretty amazing to me.

Physical Therapy

Another exciting application for VR is physical therapy and post-stroke rehab. When patients are recovering from a stroke, we want to get them moving and rehabbing as quickly as possible. We want to make sure they’re getting work on their hands, their legs, their speech. It’s not a simple recovery process. And VR has the ability to enhance their attention, motivation, and engagement with their rehab.

It basically creates an easier situation for someone who’s lying in a hospital bed post-stroke. Normally, you have an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and a speech therapist coming to their bed once a day based on their schedule. But VR presents them with a scenario where they can be working on continuous therapy for several hours a day.

And VR can help even after the initial rehab work. Doctors can use virtual tools to help assess where a patient’s cognitive abilities are, and where they may need more work. Asking them to perform a real-world task in virtual reality can help a therapist assess whether or not the patient is ready to return home and care for themselves after a stroke.

Reducing Stress And Pain

This is an extremely interesting side of VR, and one that I think we’re going to see used much more in the near future. VR can help people suffering from chronic pain by reducing stress and taking their mind off of the pain. There’s actually evidence that when someone is immersed in virtual reality, the parts of their brain that are linked to pain are less active.

We’ve even seen amputees use VR to help treat the phantom pain that their brain tells them is coming from the missing limb. These phantom pains aren’t usually responsive to traditional pain killers, but we have seen patients react well to a treatment called “virtual mirror therapy.” The patient is able to go into a VR simulation and control a virtual version of their missing limb, moving it around and experiencing it as if it were really still there. And it’s been successful in helping them control the phantom pain they experience.

Creating A Better Hospital Experience

No one likes being hospitalized. Even when someone undergoes a successful procedure, staying in the hospital for multiple days — or much longer — is a stressful experience. What we’re seeing now is that VR has the potential to help make those stays less stressful, and even shorten them in some cases.

This is especially true for children who are in an unfamiliar and stressful situation. We’re at the point where we can create a virtual calming experience for them, and help them get through their hospital stay faster. Imagine being able to sit in your hospital bed, but spend time at a birthday party or a football game instead of staring at the TV on the wall. It helps them to relax and enjoy the long periods of time that usually make them restless and stressed.

Virtual reality is here, and it’s changing medicine in some very fundamental and exciting ways. Collaboration, treatment, and patient satisfaction are all going to benefit heavily from the tools VR give us in the very near future.

By Nitin Goyal, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Founder & CEO at Pulse Platform. Originally published on Quora.
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