Healthcare institutions have been using virtual reality (VR) for more than 30 years. Within this period, the medical industry has managed to see numerous benefits of this VR technology.
How is virtual reality used in medicine?
In 2016, people could watch an online streaming operation for the first time. The 360-degree video allowed students and any curious people to see how an experienced surgeon was removing a cancer tumor.
Two large screens in the operating room were showing a view from the camera inside the patient. This camera rather looked like an extraordinary knitting needle.
On the medical table, you could see some strange scissors that could terrify even the bravest people.
The lights were dimmed except a spotlight, and, using a special medical tool called harmonic scalpel, Shafi Ahmed, the surgeon, began to remove a tumor.
He made an incision and then pronounced “Scissors” with the moveless countenance. After pulling out some pink mass, he dropped it into a bowl. The tumor was finally removed.
In this video, Shafi Ahmed, a cancer surgeon who conducted the operation, claimed that the use of virtual reality in healthcare and streamed operations could significantly improve the level of medical staff training.
The surgeon added that applying a VR-enabled approach to training young medical specialists was “cost-effective”.
Two 360-degree cameras taped the procedure and some lenses installed around the room.
It was necessary to use a special mobile app called VLIPPmed and VR headset to watch the video. Furthermore, those who had no VR hardware could watch the broadcast online.
Broadcasting surgical procedures is not a new phenomenon, but virtual reality and healthcare tied together to bring new value to streaming training videos and to educate medical students in particular.
VR technology enables learners to experience a real operation from the surgeon’s point of view.
Young specialists can safely perform operations in a virtual environment under full control. Within the virtual surrounding, they can make errors with no risk to patients.
Using VR hardware, future doctors can interact with a simulated patient and learn medical skills in practice.
Students can find themselves in an operating room and focus not only on the surgeon’s actions but also on his assistants’ ones are as well.
Since there is always noise in operating rooms, young specialists can quickly get used to the operating environment with VR.
The use of virtual reality in healthcare education allows students to get both knowledge and practical skills more efficiently compared to traditional lecturers or even an ordinary broadcasted video.
A more efficient way of learning compared to VR streaming is only personal participation in a real operation.
However, this practice eliminates the capability to learn from the best surgeons’ experience while staying at home or in the classroom.
The use of virtual reality simulations in healthcare education enables students to conduct virtually an operation with a real body with a zero-error rate, which indeed matters when it comes to human lives.
Today the price of virtual reality devices is much lower than a few years ago. Because of the growing affordability of VR headsets, this technology is now commonly used in healthcare.
Using virtual reality devices developers can build specific VR solutions that would be extremely helpful in certain medical cases.
There is a diversity of virtual reality applications in healthcare. They bring significant benefits to both private practitioners and state healthcare organizations.
Web and mobile technologies used in healthcare are mostly aimed at improving patient’s satisfaction and facilitating the communication between patients and their therapists.
VR-enabled applications accomplish tasks that are more complex. Virtual reality in medicine can be applied in operating rooms and for therapeutic simulation purposes.
How can virtual reality be used in medicine?
VR is now widespread in medical education institutions as a tool for training and sharing experience.
VR technology allows medical students to get an in-depth anatomy knowledge through the interaction with a simulated surrounding.
Below, we will consider how virtual reality in healthcare can help medical institutions increase the effectiveness of their treatments.
Local anesthesia simulation
Burn injury survivors might require scar tissue removal surgeries. These surgeries are very painful, so they require accurate anesthesia. How can students learn to perform such procedures in practice without placing real patients at a risk?
VR enables medical institutions to place students in a real-world situation where they must accurately hit the right nerve under high psychological pressure. Virtual reality technology can effectively prepare young specialists for various unpredictable situations.
RASimAs is a VR-enabled local anesthesia simulation system built at the Aachen University.
Virtual reality solution visualizes the consequences of students’ actions in the simulation and helps learners improve their injection accuracy.
To receive feedback from the system, students with its specific manipulation device.
RASimAS lets students:
- See the result of turning a syringe needle;
- Check how accurately a certain nerve was hit;
- Test the injection site;
- Check how tissues react because of students’ manipulations.
Invasive surgery is among the hardest aspects of medical training that brings serious challenges to students.
To become a real surgeon and conduct such operations with no errors, students have to get a significant experience. It seems impossible without risk for real patients.
The task becomes even harder with the complexity of practicing in the endoscopy.
As a part of the invasive surgery, the endoscopy implies the inverse image perception.
Things on the left side, in reality, are shown on the right side of the endoscope screen and vice versa.
This is where VR can become helpful. Invasive surgery is one of many uses of virtual reality in medicine.
This technology can help students get more experience in the endoscopy and invasive surgery without risk to compromise a patient’s health.
Simsurgery is a virtual simulator designed for practicing medical skills for both beginners and experienced endosurgeons.
This is one of the most advanced simulators for training in endosurgery.
Before each exercise, the system demonstrates a short video of a real laparoscopic intervention from which follows precisely what this exercise is intended for.
Then students watch a short video of the exercise they have to virtually perform. This video facilitates students’ understanding of the assigned task.
The solution uses realistic 3D images of internal organs and tissues during the exercises.
In case of incorrect manipulations, SimSurgery simulates their negative consequences such as bleeding, ruptures, etc.
Virtual anatomical laboratories
In educational institutions, learning anatomy is currently based on lectures, schemas, and ordinary images.
These traditional training methods make it hard for students to visualize a three-dimensional structure of a human body mentally.
Through the partnership with the Western University of Health Sciences, a technology company called zSpace created a virtual anatomical laboratory.
Young specialists now can learn human anatomy with the help of holographic images.
To use zSpace, you don’t need head-mounted displays (HMDs). The system ensures the VR effect through special glasses.
Unlike HMDs, zSpace doesn’t make learners feel isolated. With this system, they still can communicate with each other.
Using zSpace, students can explore in-app 3D objects, analyze their structure, and interact with these objects using the stylus.
While examining a virtual body, future doctors can separate both nerves and muscles from the human skeleton.
The use of VR for medicine can revolutionize today’s medical training, especially with systems like zSpace. Solutions like zSpace combine theory and practice making learning much more effective than traditional methods.
VR in dentistry
Besides training, dentistry is another application of virtual reality in medicine.
VR technology plays a significant role in educating future dentists.
HapTEL, a VR-enabled system, which allows students to conduct virtually dental treatment.
The system provides students with a training scenario showing them a virtual 3D model of an oral cavity so that they can practice on.
HatTEL enables students to perform virtually various medical procedures, such filling using a virtual drill or to conduct a root canal therapy.
The system generates teeth changes following student’s moves.
Therefore, future dentists can instantly get feedback and see the results of their work without any risks to real patients.
VR in paramedic education
For training its students, the RCSI usually uses its expensive, complex surgical simulators that allow students to practice various medical operations.
The price of such simulators can be around €100,000.
VR in healthcare can teach paramedics life-saving skills. They can learn saving human lives by interacting with a virtual surrounding where a patient needs urgent help. Based on real-life scenarios, virtual cases enable students to experience high-pressure situations and learn practical skills.
First aid training for everybody
The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) created a VR mobile app that makes medical education available to anyone.
Their VR app was created to provide future doctors and even curious people having few things in common with medicine with another way of learning.
The RCSI app has a particular mode for non-medical users. In this mode, the app provides users with detailed information for each step of various medical procedures.
The solution simulates the emergency room with a medical team treating a patient survived in a car accident. To experience this simulation, users must use an Android-based smartphone and VR HMD.
In the simulation, a user plays a role in the accident and emergency team leader. During the operation, users must evaluate the patient’s health condition, make important decisions, and conduct life-saving procedures.
Therefore, the college decided to create a VR app that would make medical education more affordable.
VR in forming healthy habits
Virtual reality can also be used to train people about a healthy lifestyle like quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol abuse, healthy nutrition, and going in for sports.
Unlike boring lecturers or brochures, VR can reduce the risk of illnesses and improve human immunity engagingly and interactively.
For example, fully immersive CAVE VR systems can plainly demonstrate the results of harmful habits and encourage people to refuse them in order to have a better health.
VR in phobia, depression, and PTSD treatment
The use of phobia treatment is among the essential advantages of virtual reality in medicine.
For example, if a patient has arachnophobia (the irrational fear of spiders). Using VR hardware paired with a specific app, this person can gradually get used to these creatures while staying within a virtual surrounding.
VR technology can also be used to treat patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For example, soldiers who participated in combats and as a result got their psychological health damaged.
Through partnerships with virtual reality healthcare companies, medical specialists can develop effective psychological treatment programs that can quickly help patients relieve their disorders.
Numerous people all over the world suffer from depressions that can be treated through VR mobile applications.
SPARX is a bright representative of virtual reality healthcare apps.
Within SPARX’ scenario, players travel through the virtual 3D world, meet other personages, and fight their depressive thoughts.
The game educates how to overcome such thoughts engagingly and interestingly.
Since games cannot be perceived as therapy, young patients don’t hesitate to play this game while eliminating their depression. Therefore, nothing is surprising in the fact that SPARX has become especially popular among teenagers.
This innovative anti-depression measure attracted much attention of scientists.
According to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website, one-third of patients suffering from depression who plays this game recovers from their negative mental condition.
Furthermore, the depression remission rate for those who played SPARX equaled 43.7% compared to only 26.4% for those treated with traditional medical anti-depression methods.
The example of this VR game has shown that modern technology-based treatment methods can help patients efficiently fight their psychological disorders. Due to apps like SPARX, treating mental disorders has occurred to be among the most helpful virtual reality uses in medicine.
One of the most significant examples of combining VR and healthcare is a mobile app called Bravemind.
This VR solution is designed to treat patients having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). More than 100 US-based military bases use this tool.
The Bravemind PTSD therapy is about using a VR headset for confronting traumatic experiences under the supervision of a qualified therapist.
This VR app allows creating new environment scenarios and changing existing virtual landscapes.
Using the app, patients face highly realistic simulations that remind them of their past traumatic experience.
With virtual reality used in medicine for fighting PTSD, patients can quickly stop suffering from stress disorders.
As it’s clear from CNN’s video above, a patient PTSD level can significantly improve after three months being treated with the use of VR solutions.
The value of virtual reality for medicine is nearly impossible to overestimate. VR technology can revolutionize the whole industry.
While having training students as the most widespread use case, VR can also be used as a significantly effective tool for treating various mental disorders.
The use of both virtual and augmented reality in healthcare can significantly increase the level of modern medicine all over the world.
These technologies provide medical institutions with brand-new opportunities that allow future therapists, dentists, surgeons, physicians, and other medical specialists to learn necessary skills on practice without the risk of compromising human lives or damaging patients’ health.