How VR and AR are transforming healthcare

Living with pain or illness is a challenging reality for many people.

Fortunately, new technology has expanded what that reality can be, as pain management treatment extends into the virtual world.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) has transformed healthcare across multiple disciplines — from autism therapy  to neurorehabilitation, to pain management.

Virtually possible

VR removes us from our world, simulating 3D space using computer-generated video or images. Using a headset with a video screen in conjunction with hand-held interface devices, users can interact with this simulated world.

Several studies demonstrate VR’s power to significantly reduce acute pain:

Researchers suggest a ”gate theory of attention,” meaning VR is so immersive that it diverts our attention from even the worst pain. This pain management method is even effective for children and teenaged burn patients.

“It’s not just a distraction,” Jeffrey Gold, director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital LA, told the New York Times. ”[VR] is a multisensory experience that engages a person’s attention on a much deeper level.”

Currently, the technology acts as an ‘’adjunctive analgesic,’’ supporting traditional pain management techniques, but experts  hope VR might even replace opioids one day.

As 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day, health care providers are eager to discover new methods of pain management. VR therapeutics companies like AppliedVR have already partnered with hospitals like UCSF Medical Center to find solutions.

Augmenting medicine

Augmented reality, on the other hand, keeps us in our world.

By projecting computer images onto the world, AR increases the information density of visual space (for example: Google Glass). AR uses the design language of video games, employing choices like heads-up-display (HUD), to maximize physician performance.

At least 74 studies explore surgeons’ use of HUD during surgery. As of 2018, surgeons mostly used Google Glass for:

  • Live-streaming and navigating surgical microscopes
  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Displaying preoperative images

AR allows surgeons to focus more on their patients and less on searching for critical information during surgery.

VR and AR technology will play a significant role in patient care and health and wellness management as virtual medicine pioneers continue to push the boundaries of innovation. Sometimes pain is (virtually) escapable, but VR and AR technology doesn’t remove us from our medical realities; instead, it helps us face reality head-on. Ready, Patient One? The doctor will see you now.