Ask someone who plays a lot of computerized video games about “virtual reality.” Places that can be so life-like that it’s hard to separate real life from “virtual” life. Virtual reality is no longer exclusive to games – it’s now moved into the medical field. The healthcare field is bursting with “virtual reality” simulators and software products.
Virtual reality in healthcare? What could they possibly have in common? In a recent press release, we were treated to a glimpse of the many different uses for virtual reality and healthcare.
Virtual reality occurs when we view 3 dimensional images on our computer screens. These images go beyond pictures or photographs and they provide a real representation of the object in question.
For example, when you’re looking at a 3-d object, you can turn it so you can see all of it’s sides, or you can cut it and see its interior. Anything that you could do if you were physically touching the real object can be done via a computer.
Using 3-dimensional models, medical students can study how the body works, learn anatomy and the body parts, see muscles, tendons, and joints interact with each other and more.
“While still at a very nascent stage of commercialization, VR technologies are being widely used by the Department of Defense, medical schools and hospitals, and manufacturers of medical equipment on a variety of levels with significant benefit. The establishment of industry standards should lead to rapid commercialization of products, and ongoing technological advancements will only further the market, particularly in the surgery segment,” said Steven Heffner, Executive Publisher of Kalorama Information.
Here are examples of how virtual reality is currently being used in medicine:
Surgery: Physicians and trainees can use virtual reality to plan surgeries, conduct remote surgeries or assist others with surgeries
Education and training: What better than to let surgeons practice operating on a virtual person, where no one suffers if a mistake is made? Exact 3-d models of the human body can be created, giving medical students and established medical practioners views of the human body, and how it interacts, that were never possible before.
Rehabilitation and therapy: virtual reality can be used to distract patients who might otherwise experience pain, and can be used to help with psychology therapy as well.
Visualization of medical data: many diagnostic tools now include 3-d imaging so that physicians can get the total view of a patient. Virtual reality is also being used when physicians in two, or more, different locations need to work together on the same patient.
The market for using virtual reality in conjunction with medical sciences is expected to explode in the future. Some people predict that the medical virtual reality marketplace will grow to $290 million in the U.S. alone.