Extended Reality (XR) Is Transforming Medicine: Here’s How

15 Mar 2022

VR Surgery Training

Virtual reality (VR) technology has revolutionized the medical industry in recent years, and one of its most significant applications is in medical training.

Medical professionals are utilizing VR to enhance their skills and knowledge, enabling them to provide better patient care.

Physicians can use VR simulations to practice surgical procedures, such as laparoscopic surgeries, which require high precision and dexterity.

Here are a few amazing ways that VR (and even Augmented Reality or AR) is already being applied in medicine today.

Application of Virtual Reality in Medical Domains

Communication

A recent article in Nature describes a multitude of advantages provided by VR-based training for medical communication.

VR-based applications can help patients with “threat appraisal”- appreciating the threat of their condition. For example, the 3D embodiment of descriptions such as smoker’s lungs into vivid rendering can discourage the pursuit of unhealthy habits.

Immersive experiences using VR help communicate effects better than traditional two-dimensional methods or even counselling. Education is already being influenced by VR technology due to this inherent advantages, and medical professional are using the same concept to help their patients.

Diagnosis

Virtual reality technology is being utilized to diagnose medical conditions such as neurological disorders, autism, and visual impairments. For example, VR simulations can be used to test and improve spatial cognition in individuals with autism or to simulate visual impairments to help diagnose and treat vision problems.

AR and VR technology can also be used for image diagnostics by doctors. The main advantage of XR technology in diagnostics stems from the fact that humans can interpret spatial (3D) scenarios easier than many 2D scenarios.

For example, MRI and CT scan overlaid using augmented reality (AR) tech can help clinicians diagnose complex scenarios easier than with 2D images. Most importantly, realistic simulations can enable students to practice decision-making outside high pressure, real-world scenarios.

Treatment

VR is being used to treat a range of medical conditions, including chronic pain, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. Virtual reality simulations can create immersive and interactive environments that help patients confront and overcome their fears and anxieties.

For example, VR therapy can simulate exposure therapy for patients with PTSD or anxiety disorders. VR Therapy can also calm anticipatory anxiety, such as in patients undergoing cancer therapy or surgery such as a colonoscopy. VR can also help with coping appraisal- the ability of an individual to think the treatment will be effective, by showcasing the simulation effects of the therapy visually.

VR has also shown promise in treating ADHD in children, with the help of feedback using brain signals (EEG or Electroencephalography).

All these methods provide promise in areas that have been difficult to treat with conventional methods.

Training

Medical professionals are using VR to enhance training and education. For example, physicians can use VR simulations to practice surgical procedures or to train for emergency response situations. Medical students can use VR to practice diagnosing medical conditions and to gain hands-on experience before working with actual patients.

Additionally, VR technology can be used to train medical professionals in various specialized fields, such as radiology, where accurate interpretation of medical images is crucial. VR simulations can provide medical professionals with an immersive and interactive environment to practice interpreting medical images and diagnosing conditions.

Medical students can also benefit significantly from the use of VR in their education. For example, they can use VR to practice diagnosing medical conditions, which can be challenging to do accurately without hands-on experience. VR simulations can also provide students with a realistic and immersive experience, allowing them to develop their skills and knowledge in a more engaging way.

An interesting application of VR is to train medical professionals in empathizing with patients better by using a virtual patient for training.

One of the significant advantages of VR-based training is reusability.

Surgical training is usually performed on cadavers, but the cost can become prohibitive at scale. VR devices, while an expensive initial investment can work very well at training a large group of clinicians in standardized procedures.

This translates to other forms of training as well, such as for in-vitro fertilization where the resources (eggs) are scarce. Any scenario that is difficult to scale in the physical world will find a scalable digital twin for training.

So, what can we expect in the future?

Virtual reality (VR) technology has many benefits for medical training, but there are also some limitations.

One limitation is the cost of implementing VR technology. VR equipment can be expensive, and the software required to create realistic simulations can also be costly.

This can sometimes make investing in VR training programs difficult for some medical institutions. However, a VR-based simulation once implemented is very scalable- and often a better option in case of programs that are generalizable.

One area of concern in virtual reality (VR) based medical training is the limitations of haptic feedback.

Haptic feedback refers to the sense of touch and force feedback, which is crucial in medical procedures that require precision and delicacy.

While VR simulations can provide visual and auditory feedback, they may not accurately replicate the tactile sensations that medical professionals experience in real-life scenarios. This can limit the effectiveness of VR training programs for specific medical procedures.

For example, in laparoscopic surgeries, surgeons rely heavily on haptic feedback to guide their instruments and make precise incisions. With accurate haptic feedback, surgeons can perform these procedures effectively in a virtual environment.

This can also pose a problem when an inexperienced surgeon trained in VR performs an actual surgery- as the tactile information available is vastly different.

While VR haptic devices can simulate touch and force feedback to some extent, they may not be able to replicate the full range of sensations a medical professional would experience in real-life scenarios.

As a result, VR training for surgery in the current stage is more of a supplement to physical training, not a replacement.

What does the future hold?

VR-based medical training has many benefits, but the limitations of lack of haptic feedback limits current use cases. Medical professionals may be unable to rely on VR simulations alone today to develop the tactile skills necessary for specific procedures.

But research in pneumatic, vibration-based, and electrical haptics interfaces is working on bridging these gaps. It is likely that future “digital twins” will be able to simulate tactile information accurately, enabling even more true-to-life medical scenarios.

Nevertheless, VR is already transforming multiple aspects of both medical training and patient care, in a way few technologies have in the past.

We can be very optimistic of the diagnostic and treatment tools that this will enable in the very near future.

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Address

15 KENT RIDGE CRESCENT #06-01 SINGAPORE (119276)

E-Mail

seamlessxr@gmail.com


Seamless XR © 2022-2023, All Rights Reserved

Address

15 KENT RIDGE CRESCENT #06-01 SINGAPORE (119276)

E-Mail

seamlessxr@gmail.com


Seamless XR © 2022-2023, All Rights Reserved