When most people think of virtual reality (VR), they may picture advanced video gaming. VR does make for improved entertainment options, but could it also aid in healing those suffering from health woes?
VR holds a host of possibilities for the medical field. From training new healthcare providers to alleviating the pain of those suffering from chronic ailments, VR has already begun revolutionizing patient care. In 2019, the following VR trends may make hospital and doctor visits much more pleasant — and more effective — than ever before.
VR And Addiction Recovery
The opioid epidemic continues to claim lives across America. VR therapy can help addicts kick the habit in several ways.
VR treats heroin addiction by immersing patients in a virtual world where they snort or inject the drug. While this sounds counterintuitive, the process helps therapists identify the triggers that prompt drug use. They then teach patients new coping skills for saying “no” in the virtual and advanced video gaming world that carries over into everyday life.
VR technology holds promise for treating addictions to alcohol and cigarettes as well. Considering the toll addiction takes on health, early intervention with VR can help ward off future negative health consequences.
VR And Medical Training
In traditional medical training, residents perform their first surgeries under the watchful eye of a senior mentor. What if new health providers had the opportunity to perform tricky procedures in the virtual world first?
VR holds potential for elevating patient care by improving the way medical pros undergo training — and the learning need not stop at the OR. New phlebotomists could practice tricky blood draws on virtual patients with hard-to-locate veins. This alone could soothe patient fears when they need an IV or test, especially if they’ve had negative experiences with getting blood drawn in the past.
VR And Chronic Pain
Even when medicated, many patients nevertheless experience significant pain, and in some chronic cases, the aching never seems to ease. The amount of painkillers needed for comfort often leaves sufferers unconscious, or at best, dizzy and unable to concentrate.
Researchers found that patients treated with VR therapy reported a 35 to 50 percent decrease in the amount of pain they experienced. They suffered no loss of cognitive ability when reducing pain using this method.
VR can also make long-term hospital stays more pleasant. Even when patients have regular visitors, they spend countless hours with nothing to focus on except how much pain they feel. VR can allow these patients to virtually venture outside and explore without ever leaving their bed, taking their mind off their agony.
VR And Autism
Autism impacts 1 out of every 160 children and can put significant stress on family members. The condition causes difficulty with social and emotional skills, and in severe cases, can impact a child’s ability to participate in tasks of daily living.
VR can immerse autistic children in a safe virtual world where they can practice social interactions and basic tasks. While researchers have yet to examine how adding VR therapy to traditional treatments could benefit these children, those using VR alone showed improvement in coping skills. They also experienced reduced anxiety levels in social interactions.
App developers are busily creating programs parents, teachers and therapists can use when working with autistic children at home and in the classroom. The hope is that VR can soon help autistic children adapt to the distractions and social demands of participating in school activities.
VR And Provider Empathy
In a popular advertisement for over-the-counter migraine medication, one sufferer’s mother experiences the visual disturbances those with the disease have in the aura stage of an attack using VR. This gives her more empathy for what her daughter endures regularly. Could healthcare providers likewise improve their bedside manner using VR?
Improving provider empathy could help patients who often feel unheard or dismissed to receive the care they need finally. Multiple studies indicate, for example, that male and female physicians alike tend to take women’s pain, less seriously than they do that of men. VR devices could eventually allow doctors to recreate the symptoms patients report to better gauge their severity and improve treatment outcomes.
Better Health Through VR
VR helps healthcare providers evaluate and alleviate patient pain more effectively. The possibilities for VR use in medical training and treatment stretch the imagination. As the wider use of VR expands across additional fields of medical practice, more people will enjoy improved health outcomes.