How Can Technology VR/AR be Used in Medicine?

Nowadays, almost any average person has ever heard or faced with virtual or augmented reality technology. VR cinemas or gaming rides work in almost any city in shopping and entertainment centers. For several years, many companies have been producing their own home-use VR glasses (HTC, Sony, etc.). But, most likely, when you think about this technology, you imagine games, video content and other entertainment. Of course, VR dominates in this segment, but it is not limited by it. In this article, we will tell you in detail how virtual and augmented reality is already used in such an important and serious area as medicine.

For many years, doctors around the world have been trying to use this innovative technology for different purposes. During this time, they realized that VR is a great assistant in their difficult task. Let’s find out, what tasks it can solve and study the real cases of its application.

Fighting with Loss of Memory and Alzheimer’s Disease

According to official data, about 35.6 million people worldwide suffered from this truly terrible disease as of 2010, and by 2050 this figure could increase to 115.4 million people. A person who is sick with Alzheimer has serious memory problems: he forgets the meaning of some words, important events in his life, the names and faces of loved ones, etc. It is worth noting that in our time there is no cure for this disease. Now scientists are trying to fight only with the symptoms by all means, and at least for a short period of time to return memory to the sick people.

Dan Cole, whose father suffers from this disease, together with like-minded people created a series of films in VR format, which are called “Wayback”. The purpose of this project is to stimulate the brain by immersing the patient in the memorable moments of his life. And virtual reality is just perfect for this.

Of course, VR therapy, unfortunately, cannot cure a person of this disease, but studies have shown that it allows people to temporarily regain the lost skill of meaningful communication, improve their emotional state and even slow down the development of the disease.

Virtual Cardiology

Not so long ago, a leading cardiologist from Stanford David Axelrod developed a VR model of the human heart, with which it became possible to visually descry congenital defects. This invention has two practical applications:

  • visual demonstration for patients;
  • study example for students.

Video presentation of the virtual heart:

As it is known, the heart is the most complex internal organ that has not yet been studied 100%. Any cardiologist will confirm that it is extremely difficult to explain what is happening inside the heart to an ordinary person. At the same time, if the patient does not have a concrete understanding of the course of the operation that one has to go through, then he experiences additional stress. In order to eliminate this problem, Stanford Lucile Packard Hospital carries out a preparatory work with patients a few days before the surgery. As you might have guessed, they are immersed in virtual reality, where they have the opportunity to “walk” around the cardiovascular system, examine it from different angles and see with their own eyes how their defect looks. In addition, with the help of controllers, patients can “perform a surgical operation” in the virtual space. This allows them to see with their own eyes how the operation and restoration of the heart’s work will take place.

As it was mentioned above, another practical application of the VR heart model is student learning. Nowadays, 22 medical centers around the world already use this development for training cardiologists. Studies have shown that this technology favorably influenced the qualifications of students. Those specialists who studied using the VR technology showed the best results during testing.

All this shows us that VR-modeling is penetrating deeper into medical centers. It is also worth remarking that in addition to better information digestibility compared to physical models of the heart, virtual reality technology has another significant advantage – it is much cheaper and easier to maintain.

VR against cancer

At the moment, several VR start-ups are helping cancer patients: KindVR, Start VR and Oncomfort. All of them are engaged in the development of special applications which help to relieve stress for patients during chemotherapy. Patients are worn with virtual reality glasses, where they are shown soothing content: a boat trip in a quiet harbor, a trip to the zoo, etc. These videos play the role of distraction and it allows people not to think about the discomfort they experience during chemotherapy. As practice has shown, this method is much more effective than the classic use of opioids: when using VR the concentration on pain decreased by 48%, whereas for opioids this figure is only 10%.

In addition, a group of scientists from Cambridge University won two grants totaling $50.6 million. They developed three-dimensional models of cancerous tumors of the breast. It is important to note that with the help of virtual reality, these tumors can be seen in the smallest detail. This fundamentally new approach to the study of cancer will allow looking at the disease from a different angle.

Another advantage of this development is its availability. The fact is that three-dimensional models of tumors are stored in the cloud space, and not in test tubes, so experts from all over the world can study them freely, without the need to extract and store real samples. This should help to understand this disease better, and perhaps, we will finally be able to treat it at any stages.

Visual recovery

Another very important global problem is visual impairment, according to recent data (October 2018), more than 253 million people around the world have similar problems. It should be remarked that the main reason for the visual impairment of older people is macular degeneration.

California specialists of start-up IrisVision are working on solving this problem. It is important to understand that the yellow spot itself is responsible for the central vision and it is only one part of the retina. Visual impairment begins because of the deterioration of the cells of the yellow spot. As a result, a person has dark spots and it becomes difficult for him to perform simple everyday tasks: reading, driving a car, watching TV, etc.

With the help of a special headset, which was developed by IrisVision specialists, it is possible to expand peripheral vision in such a way that it will eliminate the above impairments. According to the creators, their unique technique allows improving vision from 20/400 (considered a serious visual impairment or a severe form of vision loss) to 20/30 (considered soft loss of vision, or almost normal vision). Patients return to normal life after treatment.

Rehabilitation after severe injury

It’s no secret that every day people get injuries of varying severity for various reasons. As a rule, after the doctor’s operative intervention, the patient has a long rehabilitation process, the term of which depends on the complexity of the injuries. In such cases, the doctor often recommends various sets of exercises, massages, etc. But the specialists of the rehabilitation center “Symmetry”, which is located in Minsk, have created a unique VR simulator for this purpose. It is able to turn a long and tedious rehabilitation process into exciting entertainment.

As practice has shown, virtual reality is quite a powerful motivator, which leads to a more intensive improvement of the patient and, as a result, his speedy recovery. Based on VR technology, orthopedic traumatologists together with software developers have created a unique exercise program for the rehabilitation of the muscles of the upper shoulder girdle, treatment of scoliosis, etc.

At the moment it is difficult to talk about the effectiveness of this method since this development appeared only at the beginning of 2019, but the first experiments are very positive. Using this method, it is easier to collect reliable information about the quality of movements and the progress of patients, which allows to make appropriate regulations and speed up the rehabilitation process.

Conclusion

Based on the above information, it can be concluded that VR technology is successfully used not only in the field of entertainment and video games but also shows itself well in other areas. In this article, we observed at integrating of VR into the healthcare industry. It is important to understand that we have described far from all successful cases since every year they become more and more. Now the common market of using AR/VR technologies in medicine is estimated at almost 1.6 billion US dollars. Experts predict that next year this figure will be 2.54 billion US dollars.

But it is worth noting that a truly large-scale introduction of virtual and augmented reality into the healthcare industry should not be expected in the next few years. To do this, it is necessary to reclassify the equipment from entertainment to medical. It is important to understand that this is a rather long and expensive procedure that will take more than one year.

In any case, technological progress will not stop, but how quickly it wins – time will tell. We can only observe how our world is changing.

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