The field of medicine has advanced an astonishing amount in the last 100 years. As late as the mid-1950’s, mercury was still being used to treat sexually transmitted diseases!
The past century has been filled with brilliant medical discoveries, including the unearthing of antibiotics, knowledge of how DNA works, development of CT scanners, and even being able to 3D print body parts.
One of the most fascinating recent medical developments is how doctors are integrating Virtual Reality Technology, or VR, into the field. VR is the use of computer technology to create an entirely simulated environment – if you’re curious about the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, check out this article. Virtual reality is most recognizable by its use of a full head-mounted display (HMD). When users slip on this helmet-like device, complete with headphones, head and eye tracking capabilities, and full stereoscopic displays, they become immersed in completely virtual worlds. With the headset on, users can delve into a variety of games and simulators, whether exploring fantastical landscapes, losing themselves in James Bond-esque thriller games, or creating 3D art.
So how is VR tech being used in the medical field? In lots of different ways. One particularly effective way VR is being integrated is training medical professionals. Many medical programs, including George Washington University, are beginning to use VR technology to help train their surgeons. The program allows doctors to explore a patient’s brain and body before ever stepping into the operating room. In fact, surgeons have completed entirely virtual procedures within the last few years. Studies have found that VR-trained surgeons have a 230% increase in their performance as compared to traditionally trained doctors, and they suggest VR should be integrated into standard medical teaching practices.
VR also has significant implications for pain management and mental healthcare. It’s been found to be highly effective to manage pain by helping teach patients to shift the thoughts and perceptions they have about their discomfort. Doctors can also use VR to help address patient anxiety and trauma. For example, psychologists can help treat a person traumatized by a car crash through virtual exposure therapy to public streets. This is safer than taking patients out for field exposure treatments. Patients could also gain additional hours of treatments like exposure therapy if they use VR technology in the comfort of their own homes.
The use of VR in the medical field is alluring and it has proven, effective results. Patients who experience less pain and anxiety, doctors who are more efficient and effective in their work are just a few of the benefits that could come with integrating VR into standard medical practices and training. With how far medical technology has come in the last century, we can’t wait to see where it goes next!