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Virtual Reality Has the Power to Improve Healthcare and Change Lives in a Positive Way

Way back in its infancy, VR was seen as being an extension of gaming and likely to be of little use to any other computer system user. It was a world that was pre-COVID and where video communications were not as rife as they are today. But aside from potential for enhanced video communications, regardless of where the two parties are, the COVID pandemic undoubtedly accelerated the use of immersive technologies in healthcare. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality have the potential to improve health care in a variety of settings, and several health care foundations have been collaborating with technical partners and doctors to pinpoint these areas. These innovations have risen to the forefront of patient engagement and therapeutic input because of the compelling ways they may support and involve patients and staff.

Unlike some industries and Government-based organisations, the Healthcare sector has been quick to embrace the potential for immersive technologies, and has invested in the use of these within everyday activities. One of the most significant benefits of AR, VR, and MR is the interactive education that can be achieved by employing a smartphone app, simple cardboard VR glasses, and earphones, where interacting 3D objects provide the user with a real-life-like experience of the simulated environment. Through interactive learning, immersive technologies are utilised to instruct students and medical practitioners before exposing them to real-life patients. The end result is less learning time and a better understanding of operative technique due to more realistic pictures than books and films. Another advantage is increased engagement, which has a direct impact on performance and knowledge application. The learning medical practitioner can visualise themselves genuinely in the situation, explore multiple structures within the region under study, and have a better grasp of real-life consequences. A practical example is healthcare solution provider AWTG‘s AR/VR tool, which intends to enable non-radiologists to do bedside ultrasounds on patients without endangering them. Tools such as this can vastly speed up the training of professionals by allowing them to experience realistic scenarios – including the failure of systems and emergency situations – which would be difficult or even impossible to replicate in the real world.

The adoption of this technology not only facilitates efficient learning and better visual comprehension, but it also assists healthcare professionals in meeting demand in less than two months. The more persons who are trained to do an operation, the greater the capacity of providers to meet public demand, allowing more practitioners to practise different procedures in less time. However, the usage of immersive technology can also aid in the early detection of a variety of illnesses, which is not only useful to patients but also frees up professionals’ time. Many healthcare trusts are now actively investigating the use of VR’s visual features to detect early indicators of dementia and other mental-health conditions that can be difficult to detect using standard procedures. In this scenario, specialised software can assist in providing convincing evidence that there are indicators of dementia and other disorders long before other methods can detect the onset. 

Of course, the major area where immersive technologies can really impact healthcare is in technical training scenarios. It is well understood that immersive medical training provides a safe setting in which to learn new procedures and practice ones that a student already understands but finds difficult to do on a regular basis. Many hospitals use interfaces such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams as popular interactive technologies for training that are utilised by practically everyone. But how can one train to be a doctor or a nurse solely through video interaction? A video link is limited in how much it can do; a trainer can instruct students on how to go about medical procedures by using images and video, but that is a far cry from actually getting students to carry out the task using their own hands. 

Immersive technology enables students to practise using simulations on a wide range of healthcare challenges with various people and teams. Medical simulators enable this procedure to take place virtually and allow the student to experience the feel of actually carrying out a procedure, regardless of how simple or complex it is. Being at a hospital, operating room, or classroom is no longer necessary. Immersive technology enables a wide range of abilities to be applied in a digital domain. Because simulation exercise can be quickly set up and altered, it provides a risk-free environment to apply taught theory, making it a safe environment to improve skills via repeated practice. 

But MR is also an effective way of allowing patients and others who are not familiar with a hospital setting to navigate their way around and get to where they want to be quickly. Hospitals and medical facilities are typically large, sprawling places and many who arrive for an appointment can feel overwhelmed by the sterility of the area, and can easily lose their way. By utilising MR technology delivered by mobile devices, a hospital attendee could be given virtual waypoints to help them get to the place that they need to be in.   Mobile MR could be used to place virtual signs on walls that would assist with navigation, and add extra information that is relevant to the particular user.

Healthcare is an area that is based on carrying out physical activities that require a great amount of training and practice to ensure that the patient is never at risk. To ensure this, practitioners need to not only be well trained in their particular area of expertise, but be able to take on new processes and procedures quickly and effectively, and with confidence to get it right every time. By enabling this to be carried out in a virtual way not only allows for a safe delivery environment, but enables multiple tries to ensure that the practitioner gets it right every time. This is something that has never been possible before and represents a huge shift in training ability. But Immersive technologies can go so much further than practical training and with the ability to supply users with additional information on their environment makes it an ideal means of wayfaring, making hospitals much more efficient, regardless of their size.

We are only at the very beginnings of what immersive technologies can do for us, and as we start to embrace it, we will identify more and more ways in which it can help us integrate the virtual world with the real one. VR/AR/MR is starting to get very interesting.