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Applications of Virtual Reality (VR) in Health Care

M3 India Newsdesk Jul 26, 2017

Dr. Neil and his assistants take a quick tour of the patient’s brain’s environment before the actual surgery begins. They zoom past the brain’s complex architecture and take notes of the actual position of the tumor. This tour also helps them to view details of the tumor which may not be visible in flat image setting. This helps Dr. Neil and his team to plan the surgery with greater accuracy and details.






Though this description might sound much like a video game, it is infact, medical simulation technique which allows the healthcare professionals to get closer to the real anatomy and plan the treatment.

VR refers to the interactions between an individual and a computer-generated environment stimulating multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, or haptic experiences.To put it simply, virtual reality technology creates a simulated environment & allows the user to interact with the 3d world.

VR in healthcare

Virtual reality has long been studied in a wide range of medical conditions, including anxiety, phobias, obesity, chronic pain, and eating disorders. In recent years, VR technology has become increasingly affordable, immersive, flexible, and portable, enabling its use in a broad range of health care environment.

Head mounted displays, goggles or headsets, wall projectors, doctor’s gloves fitted with sensors or touch sensitive motors are being utilized as facilitators.Though the neurobiological mechanisms of VR’s action are still unclear, applications of VR are revolutionizing the healthcare sector. Here we capture some of which in which VR is making a difference to the healthcare environment.

VR in surgeries and simulation

Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual reality (VR) have the potential to impact a surgery in a number of novel ways. VR saw its first light in health care industry about a decade ago in Sweden. Minimally invasive surgical Trainer-Virtual Reality (MIST-VR) used for endoscopic training was one of the earliest platforms for VR. Specifically, laparoscopic surgeries which require particular skill set that can be largely improvised using robotic surgery aided with a VR. Small delicate movements which are difficult to perform, can be achieved and controlled by the force feedback mechanismin robotic arm used by the surgeon guided with VR of the site of surgery.

Virtual vascular endoscopy allows a 360 degree endoluminal visualization of blood vessels which aids in a better pre-operative planning in patients with significant atherosclerosis. The use of AR in neurosurgical procedures has been increasing at an exponential rate. In case of extracranial-intracranial bypass, use of pre-operative imaging helps to find suitable blood vessels. Other techniques of AR have been used by the surgeons to assist the procedures such as intracranial arteriovenous malformation surgery.

VR training for trainee surgeons can minimize the operative time and error rate while maximizing the accuracy. VR can be used for keyhole surgery simulation involving hand held device, wherein the trainee is enabled to experience the pressure of a virtual instrument as that of a real one. This enables the trainee to encounter all the possible complications that can arise during a real surgery without any harm.

Relaxation of patients

Virtual reality (VR) gives an opportunity to be used to facilitate relaxation processes in stressed or anxious patients. Visual presentation of relaxing images and calming scenarios helps an anxious patient to experience a world outside “self” yet with a high sense of presence. This awards the patient a state of empowerment. The thought of undergoing a surgery triggers a flood of stress hormones leading to chemical imbalances in the brain causing changes in blood pressure and pulse rate. Visual presentation of relaxing images aids as a distraction technique that helps in relieving this nervousness. In this process, the brain is effectively rerouted to focus more on the virtual environment, which facilitates a more vivid experience than the one created by the subject with their own imagination and memory

Various devices such as laptops connected to audio device, mobiles, and many other portable devices are used to provide VR to the patients. Use of VR can also reduce the usage of powerful sedatives and pain killers to some extent.

Acute and Chronic pain management

It is hypothesized that VR produces a nonpharmacologic analgesic effect by modifying the body’s intricate pain mechanisms. VR culminates visual, tactile, olfactory and auditory stimuli to maximize the extent of involvement and the amount of attention paid. Burn pains are the ones most difficult to manage and the pain experienced while cleaning the wound or changing the bandage cannot be managed with opioids. Immersive virtual worlds like snow can reduce the pain perception. Since, the attention of the patient is diverted into the new ‘world’,the incoming pain signals are not perceived with much attention. Usage of VR in chronic pain management is still in its inception and aspects pertaining to the efficacy are yet to be explored.

VR in stroke rehabilitation

Restriction in the movement of various body parts due to stroke disturbs the patient’s emotional and psychological state. VR approach helps in recovering the lost functionality of limbs by improving motor improvement, which is not possible in a clinical setting.In contrary to the conventional physical stroke therapy, VR designs are often interesting and enjoyable.Hence, encourage the patients to indulge in active participation.

VR technology is growing its roots into the various areas of medical field such as pain therapy, surgeries, rehabilitation and much more. The researchers are trying to understand the human cognitive, physical, neurological and psychological functioning during a VR usage. However, there are no paralleled thoughts on its immense advantage in; a speedy stroke recovery, lowering surgical anxiety, chronic pain management and its enormous help to surgeons during challenging surgeries.

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