How is augmented reality used in healthcare

Virtual reality in medicine - new possibilities in the treatment of diseases

What has long been a trend in the computer game industry is now also gaining ground in medicine: Virtual Reality. The technology promises completely new possibilities in medical technology.

Therapists accompany patients with a fear of flying in planes that do not exist. Pain sufferers swim with dolphins while lying in the hospital bed. Medical students dissect human bodies at the desk.
What sounds like the future is already being tested in research and could soon be part of everyday life in clinics and practices. This is made possible by virtual reality technology. The potential of virtual reality in medicine is great and the areas of application are diverse. But what is virtual reality anyway? Will it change the way doctors work? And can it really help to cure diseases?

Immerse yourself in strange worlds - the VR glasses make it possible

Virtual Reality, or VR for short, is a computer-generated reality. In order to be able to immerse yourself in this virtual world, special end devices are required. The higher the quality of the devices, the more intense the experience or the feeling of immersion, as it is called in technical terms. The key to the door into the virtual world is VR glasses. Inside the glasses, images are shown on two high-resolution displays, which transport the user into an artificial world with a 360-degree view. Other terminals, such as B. data gloves also enable interaction with the virtual world.

Virtual reality in medical technology: operations from the desk

Although virtual reality has been researched and tested for years, it is only gradually arriving in other areas beyond the gaming industry. In the training of flight pilots, for example, their use has long been standard, in medicine it is just beginning. At Heidelberg University Hospital, students have recently been dissecting corpses using a touchscreen while sitting at their desks at home. Doctors train new treatment techniques on virtual patients and prepare for surgical interventions - from dental operations to organ transplants. Virtual reality enables the simulation of all imaginable medical interventions. In this way, students and doctors can gain practical experience completely risk-free. And not only that: You learn faster and more effectively on the simulator than by watching in a real operating room.

Overcome real fears in virtual worlds

But not only medical technology benefits from virtual reality. As current research shows, virtual reality is extremely effective in treating anxiety and stress disorders or phobias.
In a therapy with virtual reality, the patient is put into a fear-inducing situation via VR glasses. People who are afraid of flying have to get on a virtual plane, arachnophobes have to enter a room with artificial spiders. The therapist accompanies the simulation and can, for example, increase the number of spiders or trigger turbulence in the aircraft at the push of a button. Even if the situations are not real: the fear of the test subjects is real.
Virtual therapy works with the same principles as conventional exposure therapy: the patient is confronted with their fears in order to overcome them. However, VR therapy has decisive advantages: It is easier to implement, cheaper and easier to control.
The mobile application via VR glasses with a smartphone offers an additional option. The patient could then treat himself independently of the location via an app. Even then, VR therapy will not replace a therapist. The therapy process could, however, be accelerated and the patient freed from his fears more quickly.

Cure diseases and alleviate pain with virtual reality

The first attempts at therapy and successes in virtual reality are now also being made for addictions, depression and chronic pain.
In this way, addicts train how to deal with situations that trigger the desire for the drug. For example, alcoholics are sent to a virtual pub where they practice refusing drinks offered by an avatar. Nicotine addicts learn to wait at bus stops or have a coffee without taking up a cigarette.
A research team from University College London recently succeeded in reducing self-critical behavior with VR and thus alleviating depression: The team developed a program in which the test subjects treated their digital image in the form of an avatar themselves.
The effect of virtual therapy has now also been relatively well documented on pain patients. SnowWorld is the name of the artificial snow landscape developed by the University of Washington, to which patients with burn wounds are sent. During the painful procedure of changing the bandage, patients walk through snow-covered landscapes, watch penguins and can throw snowballs. This reduces the pain by up to 50 percent - similar to giving a dose of morphine.
The basic idea behind it is to involve the patient in a different reality and so reduce pain or stress by distraction. A recent study by Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles confirms the effectiveness of this method. The forays into virtual worlds not only relieve pain, but also prevent depression in long-term patients. For the study, the doctors sent patients to fascinating underwater worlds, where they could dive with dolphins and whales, let them fly over impressive mountain ranges or travel to distant lands.

The future of virtual reality in medicine

Despite the numerous successful research results, VR therapy is still very rarely used in practice in Germany. One reason is that the technology was not yet fully developed. Heavy helmets, sluggish sensors and poor screens caused nausea and dizziness in many test subjects and prevented immersion.
But the latest developments in the VR market could soon solve these technical problems. Manufacturers such as Samsung or Google have recently started offering affordable virtual reality glasses, and the programs are also continuously improving. In this respect, 2017 may well be the year in which VR achieves its breakthrough in medicine.