Is Virtual Reality the Next Revolution in Healthcare?

When we think of virtual reality, it usually relates to video games and general entertainment, but technology is doing more than just giving the masses a chance to live roleplay as a superhero -- it’s helping us with our health.

VR has been in action for longer than you’d imagine, with its hands in healthcare even decades ago. New advances in VR and for flash storage array are making it more realistic and more applicable to those with social disorders, mental traumas, and even to doctors themselves. Here are a few ways virtual reality is revolutionizing healthcare.

1.Addiction Treatment

Even those who have managed to kick their addiction still face temptation, and there is only so much advice and training a therapist can offer in a controlled environment. How can one recreate the sensation of being alone with a friend who brings a bottle of wine in a safe, observed environment? Virtual reality can create situations the patient is likely to experience, with realism so strong that they can experience the smell and the feel at once. Therapists can then offer real-time advice and coping mechanisms, replaying the reality several times until the patient is more confident and practiced to handle it in real life.

2.Phobia Treatment

They say the best way to conquer a fear is to face it, and VR is making it possible to do so in a safe environment. Those with fears of flying, swimming, bugs, and more can slide into a controlled reality where they can experience their fear in a tailored environment, with the option to stop, adjust, and replay the reality several times to desensitize themselves to the fear and learn coping mechanisms to handle their triggers. With a therapist or coach right at their side, they can get real-time advice and comfort to help them battle against their phobias.

3.PTSD Treatment

PTSD could be called a virtual reality itself, where victims are forced against their will to relive their traumatic experiences again and again. Unexpected flashes or surprise triggers can cause them to lash out, hurting themselves or others in physical and mental ways. The healthcare industry is using VR as a way to teach those with PTSD techniques for coping and suppressing their triggers in a calm environment, reliving their combat experiences or other traumatic events so they can learn how to handle them better in the real world. It’s had impressive results, with the earliest attempts helping Vietnam veterans deal with their disability, and the modern, improved VR treatment helping veterans of recent wars such as Iraq.

4.Surgical Training

In the same way VR has helped pilots hone their flying skills or tank drivers learn how to manage their machines in a controlled environment, the healthcare industry is taking the same advantage of virtual reality to train their doctors. Rather than practicing on a cadaver or alongside experienced surgeons, with the risk of harming a patient or not receiving realistic training, virtual reality is allowing practicing surgeons to develop their skills in a virtual platform with feedback on their skills and no risk of harming anyone. This allows doctors to keep their skills, such as ACLS, up to par and teach the upcoming generation with fewer dangers and better training.

5.Social Training

Those with autism struggle with social interaction, and real-life practice can be discouraging or damaging. VR is making it possible for patients to speak with avatars in situations such as job interviews or family gatherings while reading facial and vocal cues, learning through practice and advice how to pick up on the tells and make socially acceptable decisions. These skills can then be applied to real-life situations without their trial and error being on display for everyone.

6.Pain Management

Those with chronic pain have to deal with suffering on a daily basis, but VR is using the power of the mind over medication to offer relief. During physical therapy and other treatments, doctors use VR as distraction therapy, allowing patients to use programs such as SnowWorld to throw snowballs at penguins while listening to music in a realistic settling, forcing patients’ minds to devote their attention to something soothing instead of the actual pain. In practice, many cases have reported virtual reality working better than morphine.

Medical science has always known that the power of the mind is the true key to health, and technology is now making it possible for many to conquer their fears and disabilities, and gain experience through their own practice and willpower, changing the way medical science approaches our needs.

Rick Delgado

Rick Delgado is a freelance technology writer and commentator.

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