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4 Incredible Ways Virtual Reality Will Change Medical Care

It’s fun to laugh about the consumer applications of virtual reality, from family members bumping around their living rooms hiding from a 3D dinosaur to one day rolling right into the setting of your favorite Netflix show. Modern VR has another major application that we hear about a lot less than leisure: augmented reality patient care.

Here are 4 ways VR could impact medical care in the very near future.

VR for Rehabilitation

Physical therapy or exercise-based rehabilitation is often a central part of living with a spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other catastrophic injury or diagnosis. For individuals who engage in PT regularly, VR could make exercises and recovery more engaging.

People pursuing PT could look through a headset to see a video game level lying over their surroundings. Engaging in exercises means moving the game along, earning points, and getting a small rush of adrenaline and satisfaction that may be harder to find “IRL”. For both kids and adults, such overlays could make a small but significant improvement to PT’s fun factor.

VR could also help patients to spend more time learning and less time engaging directly with tasks that may still be unsafe to attempt without help. For example, a VR headset could enable someone living with the impact of a stroke to re-learn how to hold a glass in a completely risk-free virtual environment.

VR for Precise Surgery

Surgery could be one of the areas of medical care most radically altered by the introduction of augmented reality solutions. Most surgical approaches are missing one key element: depth. As surgeons wade through narrow vessels and nerves or perform a transplant, being able to accurately estimate depth could significantly improve their precision.

Imagine a surgeon wearing a headset that projects a computer-generated image over their surroundings to offer enhanced details like measurements and coordinates. Researchers believe a VR overlay could allow surgeons to complete procedures such as brain catheter insertions to within 0.5 millimeters of accuracy, reducing the chances of patient injury during surgery.

VR for Pain Relief

Using a virtual world to alleviate real-world pain or anxiety may sound absurd, but researchers believe VR could not just improve the patient experience but also reduce dependence on opioids and other traditional pain relief staples.

Soothing virtual distractions from pain could provide an immersive digital escape for patients managing pain. For children and other patients who experience high levels of anxiety before a medical appointment or surgery, VR could also be a way to soothe and destress. Children in particular may have an easier time tapping a virtual world with real relief from their immediate fears about medical procedures.

VR for Medical Education

As Jen A. Miller reports for HealthTech, medical imaging has undergone significant tech advancements, but the way medical professionals LOOK at those images hasn’t changed in a long time. New tools could help physicians-in-training to see (literally) every angle of a complicated medical condition, taking medical education from 2D to 3D instantly.

Written by Emily Progin