Throughout the 21st century, we have seen the most rapid growth in technological advancements ever experienced. Society is consistently trying to find improvements in the way we operate and solutions to problems that have not been sufficiently solved.
The up-and-coming role of virtual reality (VR) in the healthcare industry is no different from this. Although many people tend to relate VR with the video game and smartphone industries, there are many ways in which virtual reality is positively impacting and growing in the health sector.
VR therapy has been proven to impair and weaken the brain’s ability to process, and ultimately feel, pain. This new technique essentially immerses patients in specific virtual surroundings that provide them with rushes of multisensory inputs to the brain, diverting the patient’s attention away from the pain. Medical VR promotes mindfulness and teaches the brain to dissociate certain thoughts and emotions with the pain they experience. These virtual environments are customized and tailored to the user’s specific needs in order to successfully treat patients.
The role of virtual reality in the health sector is an adjunct to other treatment methods such as physical therapy, hypnosis, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Virtual reality often cannot be the single cure to one’s pain considering that once a patient steps out of VR therapy, the pain can resurface. Instead, medical VR fosters rehabilitation and helps patients differentiate pain from suffering.
It is proven that patients are more likely to retain and engage in what they experience in a virtual environment. For example, patients facing chronic pain and requiring physical therapy may find serious discomfort in rehabilitation exercises. VR helps to gently exercise the identified body parts as well as extend one’s range of motion by impeding the brain’s ability to detect and process pain.
Remodeling Patient Care
One of the several upsides to VR therapy is the fact that patients learn through their VR experiences at a higher level. Essentially, what a patient learns and experiences within their medical VR environment translates to the way they act and feel when they exit the environment as well.
From both a psychological and physical standpoint, VR can help improve the well-being of patients and identify possible solutions to unsolved issues. For example, VisitU is a company that provides hospitalized patients with virtual glasses, allowing them to connect with friends and family at home. This improves the psychological well-being of patients and helps them escape negativity they may face with regards to spending time in a hospital bed.
Related: The Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF)
Virtual reality’s impact on remodeling patient care has also shown to reduce costs. Although VR therapy is not a direct substitute for the medication and certain treatment techniques, it helps improve the speed and efficiency of the process.
For example, Mindmaze is an app that helps patients who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (eg. stroke) regain and recover lost functions. They do this by allowing patients to practice movements in a fun fashion, leaving a resounding impact on patient engagement and attitude. This can reduce both time and money spent on medication/treatments that may not achieve the necessary results.
Improving Medical Treatment and Professionals
Medical professionals have found ways to incorporate virtual reality in beneficial ways with regards to how they learn and their approach to treating patients. Nowadays, when surgeons are operating, VR allows the experience to be shared by several people. What was once only viewed by a handful of medical professionals can now be streamed for numerous students and other interested parties to witness. Not only does this promote learning through observation but it also provides a hands-on opportunity to teach through a virtual environment.
In addition, VR has improved the development of relationships between patients and medical professionals. It is believed that there is often a misunderstanding between young doctors and elderly patients due to the large difference in age. Medical students and young doctors may experience difficulties in thoroughly understanding problems seniors face considering they have little experience themselves. VR therapies allow young students to experience the challenges seniors face on a first-hand basis.
Programs such as We Are Alfred place users in a virtual environment that portrays what it is like to live as a senior with hearing and visual impairments. Programs like these provide insight to young doctors that is unattainable without experience. This has helped to bridge the gap regarding large age discrepancies, ultimately improving the treatment of patients.
Although the role of VR in the health care industry has its limitations, it is evident that it provides positive benefits to those involved and is only growing larger. Considering we are living in a time of rapid technological growth, virtual reality in the health sector holds the potential to be a revolutionary technology in the coming years.
During the last year, over $1 billion was invested in artificial intelligence (AI) research and enterprises in Canada. The Canadian government encourages businesses to indulge in technologies, like AI and VR, by providing incentives regarding funding and building a competitive advantage over competitors.
If you are taking on a project looking to adapt or advance AI technologies such as VR, EVAMAX has found that you are not only a good candidate for SRED tax credits/refunds but also for other Innovation grants.