By Shreya D'Souza, Updated By Shashidhar Pai

We often think about medicine in terms of doctors, that is, medicine is human-centric, with doctors prescribing medicine, diagnosing patients and performing surgeries. However, Virtual Reality has proven to be beneficial in the medical field.

VR as a medical education tool

  • VR can be used to efficiently educate clinicians by providing knowledge or by developing technical skills based on evidence-based practices and procedures. For example, VR can be used to:

        • Providing personalized and precise learning for gross and fine motor skills is highly useful in surgical subspecialties.

        • Facilitating the cognitive skills necessary for medical decision-making and effective communication

        • Clinician education from student to provider in the form of Anatomy education where VR provides for lower costs and increases accessibility for anatomical learning.

        • It is significantly better at increasing motivation and spatial understanding of anatomical structures cover the traditional books and videos.

  • Engage is a VR application that provides an excellent collaborative learning experience. It enables interactive learning with the ability to import 3D anatomical structures to help better visualize and understand the structures.

VR to visualize scientific medical data

  • Doctors and other health care individuals can use VR to render and view medical scan data in VR to better understand the Spatial volumetric data.

  • They may interact with the images and scans and alter them to enable viewing from a variety of angles compared to the traditional 3-axis view currently in use.

  • Tools like Paraview and Slicer 3D can be used to view these medical data in VR

Medical Training

  • Doctors-in-training can access parts one cannot usually reach

  • Full CGI reconstruction of human body - medical students normally interact only with cadavers, which do not necessarily give them an accurate representation of how a patient will react when alive

  • Medical Realities: Company that films surgeries in 4K 360˚ video and then combines that with CGI to create an immersive environment

  • Can switch between 3D and real CT views

  • VR played a vital role in the successful separation of conjoined twins at Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis:

    • Team of doctors used VR to look at organs more closely and detect any potential pitfalls

    • Can walk through the surgery so as to avoid any surprises

Mental Health

  • Simulations of scenarios in which psychological difficulties appear

    • Target triggers without having to actually travel to a different locations

  • Can create simulations of scenarios that are not easy to recreate in environments like therapy, such as being on a plane or on top of a cliff

  • Therapist can focus on patients response

  • Simulations can be categorized according to intensity/difficulty

  • Simulations can be repeated

  • Can isolate triggers in a much more controlled approach

  • Shown to reduce anxiety in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy

VR Appliactions:

Physical Therapy

  • Distraction for patients undergoing physical therapy

    • Reduces pain level

  • Physical therapy often last several months - VR allows for patients to feel some variation when put in different simulated environments

  • Helps keep patients focused during treatment that is long and emotionally-taxing

Detecting Alzeihmer's

  • VR potentially more effective than cognitive tests in detecting early Alzheimer's

  • University of Cambridge researchers have trialled a VR navigation test on patients in risk of developing dementia

    • Successful completion of task requires entorhinal cortex

    • All patients with mild cognitive impairment preformed worse on the task

    • Task proved to be better at differentiating between low-risk and high-risk patients

Treating Pain/Chronic Pain

  • VR can stop the brain from processing pain

  • Shortens patient's time in hospital, reduces treatment cost

  • Some patients do not react well to anesthesia

    • VR can be used to mitigate pain during minimally invasive surgeries

  • VR has helped reduce pain for burn patients

    • "SnowWorld" made specifically for burn patients, which has reduced pain by up to 50%.