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Virtual reality changing the game in healthcare

It has starred in science fiction blockbusters for years and has gamers very excited indeed.

But virtual reality (VR) technology isn't just revolutionising the way people play video games. It is likely to be a game-changer in healthcare, and is already presenting opportunities for the development of new treatments in a wide range of fields including aged care, phobias, obesity, pain management and brain-function rehabilitation, to name some.

The use of VR in medical training, though, is perhaps where its greatest potential lies. The scope for VR technology to provide realistic simulations of the human body and allow students to practise surgical and other techniques will revolutionise the way medicine is taught.

There are already simulators that are nothing short of incredible enabling surgeons to upskill, but these are expensive.

What will really boost the use of VR in training is the growing sophistication of headsets, goggles and gloves that plug students into the avatar world, and the continuing fall in the cost of the technology.

Zero body count

The benefits of training this way are obvious - you don't have to use real bodies .

Large numbers of students in multiple locations can experience a complex operation through the eyes of a specialist, and attempt the techniques themselves, without endangering someone's health. They can also be schooled in dealing with rare conditions that might not otherwise have presented in real life.

The quality of the tuition leaves traditional teaching tools - lectures, text books, classroom demonstrations – in the shade, giving students "hands-on" experience. There is research that suggests that the knowledge retention rate is 80 per cent if students are taught with VR, but only 20 per cent by traditional methods.

The development of additional technology will take VR simulation to the next level, making it a tactile experience. This means students will be able to "feel" their way through a procedure. It will also allow experienced surgeons to prepare for complex operations before they attempt the real thing.

Other uses include a vision simulator that allows students to explore structures of the eye using a virtual patient. Trainees can examine various vision problems, while a visual simulator makes it possible to explore the way brain damage impacts vision.

Beyond surgery, VR is a cost-effective, safe and engaging method for clinical education and training of healthcare professionals such as nurses, physicians, counsellors, dentists, paramedics and even patients.

Practitioners can receive training on procedures, techniques, equipment and patient interactions in a far more immersive and realistic environment than using traditional videos and paperwork.

Tricking the brain

Virtual reality has the advantage that you can shape it how you want it rather than be tied to actual reality.

It is this attribute that is driving new treatments for a range of conditions, allowing therapists to trick a patient's brain into dealing with a problem. They can treat people suffering from phobias or post traumatic stress disorder by gradually exposing them to the things that trigger their stress, helping to build resilience.

One European company is working on a technique to fool the brains of stroke victims to regain control of limbs, and greater use of VR is being made in pain management.

In another VR application, observers are able to witness what goes on inside the mind of a person with schizophrenia, allowing them to better treat patients with mental illness.

Virtual future

The potential uses for this technology in the healthcare field are only just starting to reveal themselves.

Things will get really interesting with the seamless integration and intersection of technologies like VR with artificial intelligence, deep learning, big data analytics, sensors, bio-feedback and increased computing power.

The prediction is that smart, adaptive virtual simulations that learn as a patient interacts with it will fundamentally change the way healthcare is delivered.

Vita Enterprise Solutions is already positioning itself to meet the exciting challenges this technology will provide, teaming up with partners such as Samsung and application developer Build VR to provide healthcare solutions in the field of aged care.

Our expertise in rolling out complex ICT solutions from end to end and providing ongoing device management and user support makes us the ideal partner to facilitate your VR project deployment. To find out more, contact us now

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