Virtual Reality Technology Is Being Used In Medical Education, Surgical Operations, And More

Virtual Reality Medical Education

During the 80’s and 90’s, virtual reality (VR) was a common theme in entertainment. Movies like Tron and The Matrix, told fantastical tales of people getting sucked into computer worlds where they had to take down an evil villain within a virtual world.

Although virtual reality came to the public’s attention decades ago, the technology was not good enough to be used outside of gaming systems until recently.While there are no villains in the VR of 2016, being transported into a computer world is no longer a fantasy of the future. These advancements in virtual reality technology are changing the way we practice and learn about health care.

In the realm of medical education, Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University Medical School is evaluating the use of Microsoft’s HoloLens

The HoloLens, considered “mixed reality” because users see both things in real life as well as the hologram, allows users to interact with the holographic image before them. This technology means students can learn how to insert an IV or a catheter even if the professor is half way around the world. Additionally, teachers can see the expressions of students using the VR and assess how they’re reacting to the hologram in front of them, enriching remote learning experiences.

On top of creating better distance learning, the tool allows instructors to repeat a lesson over and over without losing the integrity of an organ or tissue, an issue that occurs with the traditional use of cadaver parts. Although students would not be able to incorporate the touch aspect of working with actual parts, this seems like a minor setback compared to the benefits of using virtual reality.

According to Narendra Kini, CEO of Miami Children’s Health System, students retain 80% of their training one year after virtual training, but only 20% after one week of traditional training.

Virtual reality also aids in complicated procedures like neurological surgery. Neurosurgeons at UCLA are collaborating with Surgical Theater LLC to combine the utilization of the VR gaming headset, Oculus Rift, with the Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP). The combination of these two VR tools creates a way to view patient specific anatomy, utilizing patient CT Scans and MRIs. The surgeons can then practice complicated surgeries in VR before performing the real thing.

Along with medical education and surgical applications, VR technology is being utilized to treat and prevent PTSD. At the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, social work students can practice with virtual patients in order to increase their diagnosing, rapport, and interviewing skills. This virtual patient base will bring a broad array of circumstances, ages, gender, etc. to those on the path to become therapists or social workers.

Since patients with PTSD pose different challenges to social workers, this virtual patient database will increase awareness and create therapists who are more adept at working with patients suffering from PTSD.

The Institute also is working on Bravemind, a VR exposure therapy system, which places the patient in virtual situations and scenarios related to their trauma. Guided by a trained therapist, the patient is able to confront their traumatic experience, helping them process what happened. Currently Bravemind is being used at over 50 sites, including VA hospitals, military bases, and university centers.

This system has been shown to produce a meaningful reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms. Although it is mainly being used for scenarios like Afghan and Iraqi desert road environments, developers are also working on scenarios for sexual trauma. Along with the two aforementioned therapies, the USC Institute for Creative Technologies is working on a whole slew of medical related VR treatments.

It’s exciting to see how many schools and researchers are coming up with various ways to introduce VR to the medical field. These technologies range from the treatments written above to virtual assistants for physicians to using VR to help patients better understand different treatment options.

While back in the 80s and 90’s, VR was solely the realm of video games and fantasy, today these “futuristic” devices are playing a part in improving the health and well-being of countless individuals.

Kari Cowell
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