Virtual Reality (VR) technology is literally changing the world – it makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a whole new (virtual) space – but it’s also making big changes in other ways, especially in healthcare.
1. Education and training
Both VR and AR (Augmented Reality) can be used to add an extra step in medical training, allowing healthcare professionals to practice on something that looks and feels close to the real thing – without yet having to practice on an actual patient. Check out page 40 for one example of VR being used to help midwifery students practice delivering babies!
2. Easing anxiety
A lot of people experience anxiety in hospital, especially before a big procedure. Imagine instead of looking up at bright lights and beeping machines, you could feel transported to a peaceful nature scene? This exact approach was trialed on patients before and during wide-awake surgery at St George’s Hospital in London – and 100 per cent of patients said the technology improved their overall hospital experience!
3. Teaching empathy
Empathy – the ability to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ – is a super-important skill for doctors and medical professionals. Understanding how someone else might be feeling means you can do a better job of caring for them. Enter VR. In one study, VR was used for training people working in aged-care to help them get a better idea of what it feels like to experience age-related conditions such as hearing loss. The study concluded the VR training was an effective way to help medical and healthcare professionals develop empathy.
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4. Speeding up recovery
Physical therapy departments are using VR to speed up recovery in patients, for example following a stroke or traumatic brain injury. One company, Neuro Rehab VR, founded in the US in 2017, is using VR and machine learning technology to offer personalised therapy exercises using a games approach. The technology has potential to be used not just in hospitals but at home too, where patients can continue with their recovery exercises, without needing a physiotherapist on hand.
This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Tech 2020.
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.