Over the last few years, virtual reality (VR) has gone from strength to strength and now touches and influences almost every modern industry and field.
Below, medical animation company Random42 covers exactly how this exciting technology has touched the field of healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, how it is helping patients, professionals and students, and what we can expect from it in the years to come.
- Medical Storytelling and Drug Visualisation
The human body is complex, intricate and often mysterious, but scientific communication companies are helping to veil these mysteries, taking complicated biological processes and simplifying them into easily digestible and eye-catching 3D animations. This is sometimes referred to as scientific storytelling, and this field uses virtual reality to take our understanding of certain biological and scientific processes to a whole new level.
Using interactive virtual reality, scientists are able to create incredible, immersive journeys inside the human body. Using state-of-the-art technology, users can watch red blood cells float around them, giving them a far more detailed and profound understanding of any given biological process.
- Chronic Pain Management
The scope of virtual reality is so extensive that it is even making waves in the field of pain management.
Today, there is science to support the theory that the parts of the brain linked to pain, such as the somatosensory cortex and the insula, are less active when a patient is immersed in virtual reality. Virtual reality may even help people tolerate extremely painful medical procedures or support amputees who are experiencing phantom pain (which doesn’t respond particularly well to strong painkillers). With virtual reality, amputees are able to control a virtual version of their missing limb, allowing patients to get to grips with and overcome their pain.
- The Patient Journey
More than ever before, patients are demanding to be educated about their conditions and treatment options. This is something to be encouraged, and patient education and understanding are facilitated greatly by the use of virtual reality.
The use of virtual reality to streamline the patient journey can be seen in one study that used virtual reality in an attempt to increase knowledge and create a more positive experience for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Patients were given a form of virtual reality education that detailed radiotherapy immobilisation, planning and treatment. The results of the study were that patients experienced a notable decrease in anxiety.
Using virtual reality, doctors can give patients a more detailed understanding of the possible side effects and nature of their condition, resulting in increased trust between the patient and care provider. It has the added benefit that patients are able to make more informed decisions regarding their healthcare.
- Medical Education for Medical Training
As you can imagine, for any medical student or trainee trying to get a firmer understanding of the human anatomy, virtual reality is invaluable and a great learning tool. One breakthrough of note has been the “Visible Human” database, created by the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The Visible Human Project is an effort to create a detailed data set of photographs of the body. Using this raw data, virtual reality technology can build three-dimensional models of the body, where organs can be selectively removed and viewed from different angles.
Virtual reality has also been used to provide immersive training systems for trainee doctors, simulating real-life operations they can use to hone and perfect their surgical skills. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how virtual reality has added another dimension to education in healthcare.
- Combating Fears and Phobias
Using something called graded-exposure therapy, virtual reality is helping patients overcome ingrained irrational fears. This technology is able to introduce a patient to their phobia slowly and safely, so they are able to face their fear and ultimately overcome it. This form of virtual reality is not only helping people overcome their fear of spiders, but it is also being used to help patients overcome conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Assisting Physical Therapy
Physical therapy can be a trial for recovering patients — thankfully, virtual reality can offer some support. By controlling a patient’s virtual environment, a patient can be led to believe they are walking much slower than they actually are. This can help to alleviate anxiety, which means they naturally begin to increase their speed, ultimately reducing rehabilitation time.
- Preventative Medicine
Prevention is always better than cure, and virtual reality is making strides in this area too, by helping to educate patients about positive lifestyle choices, including smoking cessation, limiting alcohol intake and eating healthily. Using virtual reality, individuals can get a glimpse of how their health can change and be influenced by the decisions they make — such a visual representation can do much more than reading an article or report, given its immersive and personal nature.