A recent study estimated at 285 million dollars the potential market for virtual reality applied to medicine by the year 2022. This technology can help treat diseases and is even being used in hospital operating rooms such as Gregorio Marañón in Madrid.
One of the most striking technological trends of our time is virtual reality, together with its sisters of mixed and augmented reality. We talk about the ability to recreate digital worlds in a physical environment, to suppose realities and to move to other universes.
Undoubtedly, the applications of this technology are incredible in fields such as entertainment (PlayStation has already made virtual reality one of its great future goals) or the business sector (with significant depths in the industrial or training segment). But there is a much more interesting field where the RV is called to mark an era: healing.
Not surprisingly, a recent study by the analytical firm ABI Research estimated the potential market for virtual reality applied to medicine at 285 million dollars for the year 2022. Currently, that figure is only 8.9 million dollars , with which the growth estimated at five years is more than exponential.
Here are 5 examples of what virtual reality is being used for in the field of health:
When a person loses a limb, either by accident or illness, they usually suffer from an associated disorder known as “phantom limb syndrome”. It is a sensation of pain in the amputated limb, due to failures in the neural connections that should regulate that region of the body.
Well, a researcher at the Chalmers Technological University, Max Ortiz Catalán, is working on a virtual reality technology that would ultimately reduce that chronic feeling that affects the quality of life of patients.
Your proposal is to show the affected ones a virtual image of their complete and moving member, making use of a monitor, a camera and a marker located in the stump. In this way, the scientist hopes to restore the brain state prior to amputation, showing him different movements in real time that are obtained by sensors placed on the surface of the stump and that would pick up the electrical activity of the muscles.
In the operating room
We are now talking about an application not of virtual reality, but of its sister, the mixed reality. As recently demonstrated by the Hospital Gregorio Marañón, the startup Exovite and Microsoft, this technology can be used in surgical environments to more easily access all patient information, from a CAT scan to resonances, through its X-rays and 3D reconstruction models.
In the first experience with mixed reality (a muscle tumor operation), surgeons could visualize without a device that a HoloLens glasses endless valuable documentation: anatomical material of 2D consultation, 3D reconstruction from a CT and a Magnetic Resonance of the patient, some radiography, the radiological sections of the magnetic resonance, a surgical atlas …
All these data are displayed on a wall, a surgical table or on the patient, thanks to the fact that the glasses make a total mapping of the operating room and the different elements that exist in the room.
People with Asperger, a variant of autism, have problems of socialization, fear and anxiety in everyday situations such as having a conversation and no longer speaking in public.
To help them overcome these phobias and improve their level of social adaptability, a U-tad initiative called CicerOn seeks to use virtual reality together with motivational techniques that encourage them to keep progressing against adversity.
It is an app in which users will have the opportunity to interact with virtual avatars through gamification techniques, game dynamics in non-ludic environments. The difficulty will be progressive according to the levels, increasing the amount of obstacles, interruptions or noises. Through advancement, each user will significantly improve their social skills and competences.
The CicerOn application can be used with stereoscopic vision glasses and a smartphone, so it can be used as a virtual trainer in any space. Another possible use will be through a virtual reality device that promotes a more immersive and realistic virtual environment.
Following on the same line, the British public health system (NHS) is also working on applications of virtual reality to treat autism in general.
Thus, the NHS has joined the University of Newcastle and the Third Eye Technologies company to develop ‘Blue Room’, an environment not immersive for younger autistics to overcome their fears.
With just four sessions on average, the operation of the therapy is as follows: the children are placed in a closed room able to recreate audiovisual images of the real world, in 360 degrees, without any external reference point. A completely immersive feeling, without glasses or headphones (which can generate anguish in some autists), which allows children to move around the scene, interact and navigate with the different elements thanks to the controls of an iPad. At the same time as performing these actions, a psychologist advises them and provides relaxation and breathing exercises.
The result? Eight out of nine children treated with this technology were able to cope with a situation they feared earlier.
Phobias and paranoia
As we have seen in the two previous examples, the capacity of virtual reality for the treatment of psychological problems such as phobias has been explored for a long time. One of the most advanced projects in this regard is that of the University of Oxford, whose researchers have used this technology to deal with situations that generate anxiety and fear, exposing them in a controlled way to these environments.
Phobias can be treated by teaching various relaxation techniques to the patient and then, gradually, they are usually exposed to their original fear, which can be a very slow process. However, virtual reality would allow this path to be accelerated, by exposing patients to threatening situations in a safe environment in which they can be desensitized without there being a real risk to the patient.
Again, the results speak for themselves: In the study of this university, conducted with 30 patients, about 20% of the patients no longer had severe paranoia at the end of the test; This figure rose to more than 50% when patients were encouraged to abandon their habitual defensive behaviors.