In recent years, virtual reality or VR as it is commonly known has become a booming industry with huge potential. Although the first headsets were made in the late 1990s, they have since been improved and almost perfected. This allows us to apply them to things well beyond their original purpose of providing consumer entertainment through video games.
Where they are starting to gain traction is perhaps the most in the field of medicine. There are so many ways this technology can be applied in this field. From patient care to educating future doctors and surgeons – the potential is virtually limitless.
If this is your first time hearing about this, don’t worry. It may not be something we often think about, but it’s worth informing ourselves about it. VR is fascinating.
What is VR?
Before I get into this further, let’s run through the basics. Virtual reality is meant to trick our brains into thinking that something is real, even if it isn’t. While there are many definitions, we stick with how it is applied to a headset – the trick is to create a digital space, often interactive, that is immersive with sounds and sights.
If you’re not familiar with this, you can read more about the concept here: https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/history.html†
Unsurprisingly, it has a rich history, but that’s not entirely relevant today. What I want to mention is that in 2010 we saw a real explosion of this technology. That opened the doors to all the different uses we see today!
The first that comes to mind is VR for video games and other digital entertainment. It can enhance the gaming experience by providing users with a truly immersive world. After all, we are completely surrounded by the created space! But I’m not going to focus on that today.
This is an area where this technology lot of promise. While some schools are slow and somewhat reluctant to introduce new things into their curricula, things are picking up steam. Perhaps the most relevant application is in higher education.
While this overlaps somewhat with a topic I’ll discuss next, there are now virtual reality headsets that allow the wearer to watch a surgeon perform surgery from a first-person perspective – so essentially as if he were the one with the scalpel!
This is of course an excellent learning experience, but it can also be applied in other educational ways.
Medicine and Healthcare
This is where things start to get really interesting. You can make one virtual field of view for optometry tests now, for example. These tests are meant to get a gauge of your peripheral vision, so having a big digital space where it can be tested – talk about cool. It is also comfortable for patients who do not enjoy the traditional Humphrey visual field analyzer.
However, probably the biggest way it’s used is in medical school, as I mentioned above. However, seeing operations is not the only option.
Virtual versions of the inside of a human body avoid the need to use cadavers and can allow students to see spaces previously invisible.
Actually, another way virtual reality is being applied in medicine is in the mental health field. It can really help therapists and psychologists relieve symptoms of conditions such as agoraphobia, a fear of the outside world. Just imagine how helpful it is to acclimate those patients to a virtual space that looks like you’re outside.
It can also help with post-traumatic stress disorder and fear of heights. The idea is to introduce a patient through VR to what he is afraid of or what he needs help with. This is a gradual process until they are able to work through it. While it may be slow, it’s certainly something admirable in the medical space.
Another thing I hadn’t really thought about is using virtual reality to help with pain management for patients. This is especially true if they have large wounds or need something like a skin graft. VR rooms designed to stimulate the senses can help distract them from the pain!
The ultimate use of VR that I will discuss today is occupational safety. This is especially true when learning OSHA guidelines. If you apply this technology in a workplace, it can keep employees much more engaged. Interactive three-dimensional presentations are much more dynamic and interesting than, for example, a simple PowerPoint slideshow.
You can also demonstrate the dangers of certain events by making a simulation. This gives the public a more concrete picture of what could happen if guidelines are not followed.
Read more about it here† https://www.trio.dev/blog/virtual-reality-applications†
Conclusion? Virtual Reality seems to be going nowhere!
As I have outlined, this is used in many different industries. While the medical field seems most promising to me, there really is no limit to how we can use it (other than our own imagination). Its most fascinating use is probably in optometry, at least in my opinion.
I really don’t like getting my vision tests. I think using a headset would make it a much more enjoyable experience while still being medically relevant. Hopefully that will be a common trend in medicine in the future!
History of Virtual Reality