By: Anushka Dey
Even though I was originally skeptical of how engaging VR was, as I was hitting the virtual tether ball on the VR starter application “First Steps” for 5 minutes straight, I was entranced and fully enjoying myself. Even with the headset feeling a little too tight around my head, the controllers being tied a little too loosely around my wrists, and a little too much outside noise around me, I was immersed in a separate reality, momentarily overlooking my prior knowledge that none of what I was experiencing was real.
Virtual reality, otherwise known as VR, is a form of technology that allows users to enter a virtual world. While still a work in progress, VR has progressed so much over the past couple of decades to the point where it can often mimic the world around us without us noticing errors. Because of the progression and promising nature of VR, it has been utilized in many different fields, including the ever-growing sector of healthcare. From ethical medical training to spurring medical innovations, VR has been utilized in many approaches to improve medicine and healthcare. In this blog, I will be discussing how VR is essential in revolutionizing the future of healthcare throughout the world and then will be touching upon the necessity to increase funding and efforts of VR used for medicine.
When I go to the doctor’s office, there are a lot of thoughts running through my mind. Did I gain weight? Will the doctor tell me to exercise more? Or worse, will I need to get a shot? While there are dozens of things I worry about when going to the doctor’s, I never think about my doctor’s qualifications or whether they have the appropriate skills to diagnose and discuss my medical problems. Others might also take this aspect of healthcare for granted but for many people around the world, having quality healthcare might be hard to guarantee. Sadly, in the United States, it is projected that by 2024 there would be a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified physicians and specialists (Joseph). With a trend of fewer healthcare professionals in the future, the effects can be disastrous as less people get access to proper healthcare. To address this gap, virtual reality solutions, such as Talespin, are becoming incredibly popular in providing accessible training to medical and health students. Moreover, it is essential that these students learn doctor-patient interactions, especially in difficult situations. Fortunately, VR is able to train students to deal with simulations of different patient interactions for the students to become better communicators and empathizers towards their patients (Slater and Sanchez).
Before a test, have you ever wanted to obtain the test questions beforehand? I definitely have. Especially if the test was extremely important for my grades, I wanted every hint and potential question that might show up on the test before I actually took it. Doctors want the same thing. Before a surgery, doctors want to know exactly how the surgery will go and exactly how to best treat the patient before actually performing the surgery. Doctors can try to achieve this by years of medical training, in-depth analysis of the data, and experience. However, despite the training and practice doctors have, there are still many hospital deaths. Specifically, it is estimated that around 8 million patients lose their lives during surgeries or due to complications post-surgery (Dobson). As of now, there is simply no way to ensure that a surgery goes perfectly every time. But with VR, we might get closer than ever to providing a constant flow of successful surgeries. While medical training can act as a lecture before a test, VR can act as a cheat-sheet with all the test questions for the test. Essentially, before the surgery, doctors can utilize VR to visualize and “virtualize” the surgery to test out what surgery procedure works best for the patient (Joseph). By receiving a bunch of the patient’s data to recreate the patient in a virtual world, doctors can practice and experience the surgery in a less stressful environment to understand how best to save the patient (Joseph). This has indeed aided in the success of surgeries as a study done by UCLA showed that there was a 230% improvement in surgical performance after practice surgeries were conducted with VR.
While the previous examples focused on helping current healthcare with prior healthcare and treatment knowledge, VR also has applications in finding solutions in new illnesses and diseases that have yet to be completely cured. Because of VR’s ability to create “interactive, 3D models” of the disease, scientists and researchers have an easier way to visualize the problem and find the cause of it (Researchers are Using). Moreover, researchers are free to completely use their imagination in VR and try to come up with innovative solutions, even if it isn’t feasible in the real world yet. In that case, VR could potentially be the backbone to many diseases being cured in the future such as cancer or dementia.
There are a lot of ways healthcare can be improved. With a lack of medical professionals, millions of deaths due to failed surgeries, and many other problems, it is clear that healthcare has a long way to go. Fortunately, VR has helped with a lot of these problems and can continue to aid healthcare through training in virtual worlds, virtualized surgeries, and allowing for medical innovations. However, further funding towards VR directed at healthcare is essential to expand the benefits that VR can produce in medicine. Best articulated in a paper written by Tayebeh Baniasadi of Indiana University and her co-authors, there are many challenges and shortcomings that VR in medicine have that prevent widespread accessibility and usage of the technology such as a lack of VR regulation, the cost, and usability. To address all these problems, so more lives can be saved through VR implementation in healthcare, it is vital that more funding is put into the technology to ensure a better future. The concept of VR has much potential which can lead to a lot of benefits and huge change in several sectors throughout the world like the healthcare industry. With a careful and effective integration of virtual reality application into healthcare, more lives can be saved and we might even be able to save one of the most prevalent diseases of our time, cancer.
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Slater, Mel, and Maria V. Sanchez-Vives. “Enhancing Our Lives with Immersive Virtual Reality.” Frontiers in Robotics and AI, vol. 3, 2016, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.3389/frobt.2016.00074.
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