When it comes to the medicine and healthcare fields, science and technology is always working on new and exciting advancements. With every passing year there are new and innovative developments within these sectors. One of those recent innovative developments has proven to be the use of virtual reality.
While VR is most commonly associated with gaming, it has been demonstrated to be surprisingly effective in addressing a range of issues within the medical and healthcare fields. From training a new generation of doctors to developing life-saving techniques, both consumers and clinicians alike can take advantage of the latest virtual reality applications.
Whether utilizing the most up to date technology to heal patients and change lives or to encourage individuals to take better care of their own well-being, VR can have a major impact on health and wellness. Now, you can find out more about how virtual reality is emerging as a force to be reckoned with within the industry thanks to this article, written in collaboration with BetMGM which shows some of the best health and medicine sector VR apps on the market today and how advances in this field are being put into use to benefit doctors and patients alike.
Health and Medicine
The Best VR Apps For Health And Medicine
VR For Helping Mental Health
VR Mental Health Therapy
VR Health And Safety Training
VR Health Risks
PlayStation VR Health Risks
Samsung Gear VR Health And Safety
VR Health And Safety
Whenever new technological developments are introduced, it’s always interesting to see how they can be harnessed for uses which wouldn’t necessarily have been expected. VR as a medical intervention tool is precisely one of those unusual uses. Most of us tend to immediately think of gaming when we imagine wearing a VR headset. Yet there have already been numerous applications for VR within the healthcare field that are changing the way that doctors and clinicians provide services for patients. Despite it coming as a surprise, VR applications are slowly but surely pervading the world of medicine and healthcare in an advantageous way.
Why is VR so useful within the health sector? For a start, VR can provide hands-on training within an immersive and interactive environment with no risks of accidentally hurting anybody. When it comes to trainee doctors and surgeons, this is highly beneficial. It increases the speed at which students can learn new procedures and become proficient at them. Surgeons, first responders, nurses and paramedics alike are able to benefit from adjustable timed scenarios that will help them to learn how to provide optimal care for their patients and ensure healthier outcomes overall without ever having to come into contact with a real world patient.
VR is also offering the potential to map organs and body parts in three dimensions, giving medical professionals the chance to study issues and find solutions. Among other things, this gives surgeons the chance to plan complex surgeries more effectively without having to open a patient up. Not only does this save time, it also helps to save on valuable medical resources while improving outcomes for the patient in question.
VR is also being used as a pain management therapy. Some virtual reality programs are now being used to reduce pain via visually interactive stimulations. Therapeutic programs have been created to help children and adults alike who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer and for burn victims. These programs distract the senses, redirecting the patient’s visual stimulation so they experience less pain.
In cases where patients need to undergo long procedures, VR has proven to be an effective distraction technique. Specialist software is able to direct patients to move in particular ways or to face certain directions so that the doctors can carry out their procedures.
For those suffering from anxiety and PTSD, VR is also proving useful for removing patients from stressful situations and creating positive feedback. Simulations are able to be introduced which can assist people suffering from phobias to overcome their fears.
There are numerous VR apps for the health and medicine field which have proven to be highly effective. Some of the best include:
1. Deep VR
This interactive VR app is controlled through breathing. Run via a VR headset, this app helps patients to immerse themselves in a relaxing undersea environment where they can acquire the skill of more controlled breathing. The controller takes the shape of a belt and monitor which measures the expansion of the diaphragm in order to identify deep breathing. When the patient uses different types of breathing they’re able to move through the undersea world to explore the hidden spaces.
This application is designed to help treat people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Over 60 facilities worldwide are already using this app including military bases, universities and hospitals. Through their VR headset, patients are able to confront traumatic experiences with a therapist supervising them. The software is tailored to allow the therapist to change and build different scenarios and landscapes which enable the patient to immerse themselves in a realistic situation which reminds them of their past traumatic experiences.
Created by the University of Auckland, SPARX isn’t just a virtual reality game, it’s the product of deep research and long-term analysis. The player moves through a three dimensional world which has quests to be completed. While they move through it, they must confront their own gloomy negative automatic thoughts (or GNATS). Patients learn how to combat their depressive thoughts in a way which is engaging and entertaining and which doesn’t feel like traditional therapy. This depression treatment has proven to be useful for teenagers, with around a third of patients recovering after playing this game.
SnowWorld is an effective pain relieving app which is really making a difference in clinics and hospital to distract patients who are undergoing painful procedures. Especially useful when treating burn victims, SnowWorld involves wearing a VR headset and headphones that transport victims to a snow world filled with snowmen, mammoths, icy canyons, snowballs and penguins. All of this is set to a backdrop of relaxing music. This virtual game has been proven to fascinate players so much that they feel less pain during their procedure. It also allows for fewer medications to be used which could result in further health issues.
For patients suffering from phobias, WaspApp has been demonstrated to be an excellent treatment. Designed to help those who suffer from a fear of insects and wasps, this software takes the patient to a room where the window is open and wasps begin to appear. While the patient is able to hear and see the thing which is causing them fear, they know that there is nothing to cause them any physical danger and this means they can learn how to control their emotions more effectively.
zSpace and the Western University of Health Science have paired up to create a virtual anatomical lab for medical students in which they can practice in an immersive VR environment with holographic images. When using this program, users have no need to wear a headset. Instead, the virtual reality effect is achieved using specialist glasses. This means that students don’t feel isolated. Instead, they can collaborate and communicate with each other in real-time. Students are also able to explore realistic objects and their structure and shape, interacting with them. With the stylus, they’re able to divide images into multiple parts, such as separating the muscles or nerves from a skeleton.
7. Cyber-Anatomy Med VR
Like zSpace, this virtual laboratory allows medical students to get up close and personal with the human anatomy and to shorten the distance between practice and theory. By practising in a virtual world, student doctors will be able to learn what to do more quickly and will be able to approach real life patients more confidently when the time comes.
This BR surgery simulator was developed by scientists from around the world at the University of Aachen. The tool scans real data as the student trains, simulating how real tissues would react. These tissue reaction simulations helps to make a more accurate and realistic experience of injections. Students interact with a tactile feedback device which teaches them how to perceive then analyze information. This device allows them to see what happens if they turn the needle while checking they have hit the correct nerve. As complex operations require in-depth planning, VR surgery simulators allow surgeons to play out the whole procedure beforehand so they can be ready for even unpredictable scenarios.
Invasive surgery brings a host of challenges with it. For example, if a surgeon is carrying out an endoscopy under monoscopic conditions they cannot gain a sense of depth. Not only that, the perception of images is also inverse. These types of operations must be repeated hundreds of times until surgeons can perform them confidently and without errors. The SimSurgery software allows students to practice virtually, adjusting the difficulty of exercises to suit the trainee’s own level of experience.
It’s hard for anyone to cope with cancer, however when it comes to children it can be especially challenging. Now, the Kimo VR app has been developed to help young people undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Offering kids a distraction and way of escaping mentally when they go through their chemo sessions, Kimo features educational games and bright colors to reduce anxiety. Suitable for use by children of all ages, it can also be used by family members attending treatment sessions.
Healthcare apps don’t always only deal with complex clinical problems. In fact, dentists are now beginning to use this new technology to show patients the results which they could expect if they underwent a tooth alignment or whitening procedure. This app lets the patient choose from a range of possible treatments and find the perfect result for them. The app uses a detachable scanner to create a holographic version of their mouth so that patients can better understand the best type of procedure for their own jaw structure.
13. Brain Power
For children who suffer from learning and social impediments, finding ways to make themselves understood can be a challenge. Brain Power has now developed healthcare apps which can help resolve this problem. Featuring motivational activities which have been gamified for extra engagement, this app utilizes a user-centric advanced design together with big data and AI to develop fully immersive and interactive experiences that appeal to young users.
14. Stanford Virtual Heart
This VR experience has been designed to help medical students and the families of heart condition sufferers to learn more about congenital complex heart defects. This app shows a detailed three-dimensional model of the heart with 360 degree graphics that simulate a range of heart problems.
These healthcare apps cover a range of physical and mental healthcare areas to improve overall well-being. Including apps to treat stress, sleep problems and weight issues, Saagara uses an interactive and immersive, holographic designs, these apps encourage the patient to carry out a range of exercises including deep breathing and yoga moves as an effective add-on to existing treatment programs.
16. 3D Organon VR Anatomy
This fully featured VR anatomy app has won awards for its immersive experience that allows users to explore the body in in-depth detail. Users can manipulate the vessels, muscles, organs and bones in a three-dimensional space, examining the structures from every angle. While this app is highly educational it offers a host of advantages in that it gamifies learning due to its entertaining and stimulating experience.
17. BodyMap for Beginners
This simple app is a VR human anatomy application which is suitable for anyone to use. Helping people to understand their own bodies a little better, this app allows the user to rotate the body and zoom in to observe the anatomically accurate structures which are based on real CT and MRI scans. You can view the muscular and skeletal systems as well as the major organs.
18. Random42 VR
This app gives users an accurate and scientific three dimensional ride through the human body. The visually stunning graphics allow you to see bacteria dividing, blood cells going by and other fascinating insights into the way our bodies work.
19. Brain Connectivity Leap
This app allows the user to interact with a three dimensional human brain reconstruction. Designed by a team at the IBEB in the University of Lisbon’s faculty of sciences, this software allows you to get a closer look into the way in which the brain works and how its functional and structural segments operate. The images were taken from real MRI scans and genuine medical images while the gesture recognition system allows for even greater and more realistic interactions.
20. Operation Room
For anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to be a surgeon and work in the high pressured environment of an operating theater, the Operation Room app is the perfect download. This short simulated demo takes you inside a surgical OR where you can get a greater insight into what happens inside this unique space.
25% of people experience mental health problems during their lifetime, and finding new treatments and forms of therapy is essential. VR is now bringing a new approach to helping those who suffer in this way.
VR enabled therapy allows patients to navigate through a digitally created environment and to complete custom designed tasks which are tailored to help treat specific ailments. This type of therapy has already proven to be a useful way of delivering lasting and rapid mental health improvements. This is because BR can create very powerful simulations of scenarios that cause patients to suffer from psychological difficulties.
With many patients going untreated because of a lack of skilled clinicians, VR therapy shows a lot of potential. A therapist is already in the program in avatar form and the therapy is also automated so treatment can be delivered more quickly, facilitating how many patients are able to be treated within a certain time period.
Thanks to the gamification elements, more patients will stay in therapy for longer when compared with those receiving standard traditional face-to-face therapy treatments. This allows for a more effective and long lasting outcome for patients who would otherwise have dropped out of their treatment program.
Traditional mental health treatments are expensive, however VR therapies are much more affordable. This means that there will be extensive cost-savings when switching to this kind of treatment instead of the usual options.
Since VR also makes therapy more fun, patients find it much simpler to do the therapy tasks asked of them and actually enjoy using the app. Suitable for all ages to use, VR therapies offer a positive experience that provide treatment while also being a welcome distraction from distress and anxiety.
Digital technology is helping to tackle a number of mental health conditions with blended treatments combining automated and self-service technology with healthcare professionals’ treatment proving to be more popular and effective than ever before.
VR is proving to have a useful role in supporting traditional therapies. While CBT and other classic forms of therapy are still forming the bedrock of treatment, VR is allowing patients to learn how to overcome difficult situations and phobias in an environment which they know is essentially safe and danger free. For example, the gameChange program is a series of 6 sessions which tackle psychosis. The program places patients in a virtual equivalent of a public space which becomes progressively more problematic for the individual as they progress through the simulation. This program helps people to realize that the situation they envisaged isn’t as bad as they expected and they can overcome a host of common conditions like depression and OCD.
VR technology has also proved to be helpful for patients suffering from memory and dementia problems. Through headsets, they can travel virtually to familiar places and times in history.
The health and safety training sector is now transforming thanks to VR technology. Students can only learn so much from presentations, diagrams and notes but VR can put students into a realistic scenario which simply can’t be replicated in the real world where they can be trained to cope with dangerous situations and hazards.
Many companies across a range of sectors are now utilizing VR training programs because they offer a more hands-on learning experience than traditional study. VR is engaging and immersive, putting the user into a realistic situation without any chance of being harmed where they can learn what they need to do to cope should they ever have to face a similar situation in real life.
When users are in a VR environment they have no other option but to focus fully on the job they need to do. This is very different from traditional learning environments where they can easily be distracted. As a result, students can learn more quickly and will retain information for longer.
Another advantage of VR health and safety training is that it can be carried out remotely. This is very useful for companies with employees located all over the country or indeed, all over the world. Companies can save time, effort and money by using VR training materials that can also be customized and reused again and again.
VR is gaining momentum as a promising new technology which can expand human knowledge simply by changing how we work, learn, entertain ourselves and play. VR headsets are appearing everywhere and there are many manufacturers who are now jumping on the bandwagon and creating new, high-tech devices in this sector. Yet many people are concerned that there are health risks associated with this advanced technology that aren’t being recognized or appreciated. If someone is fully immersed in an imaginary environment, could their emotional and physical well-being be affected?
There are a few concerns which have been linked to the use of VR when it comes to medical problems. One of the main ones is anxiety. Virtual reality is very immersive by its very nature. This means it can induce anxiety or stress for people who are prone to it if they wear a full headset for any length of time.
Depending on the images which people are viewing, VR can produce very powerful emotions which are much more extreme than any which would be experienced by watching a video or looking at a photograph. In some cases, viewers can feel shocked, stressed and fearful and it can take a long time to overcome these feelings since viewers experience the situation as if they truly were there.
On another note, some people using VR headsets find that they feel dizzy and nauseous. With its realistic movements, space and time perception can be affected which, in turn, can induce nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Users are therefore recommended to take regular breaks from using VR in order to guard against nausea and dizziness. They are also advised to adjust their headset’s fit, tightening or loosening the straps as required and fixing the eye or focal distance.
VR headsets may also cause eye strain in users. This is because you may need to strain your eyes to focus on the pixelated screen which only uses one refractive optic element. Usually, headsets don’t address optic issues with a near to eye device, and this means that after just a few minutes they can become uncomfortable to wear and use. Designers of headsets need to find a way of maintaining a larger FoV (Field of View) for users.
Typically, humans have an FoV of 200 degrees with 140 degrees of binocular vision to allow for depth perception as well as 60 degrees allowing for peripheral vision. Today’s headsets only have an FoV of 35 degrees. This gives the user an experience of just watching content. If the FoV is increased to at least 60 degrees, users can feel more immersed in the content so it become more experiential. A headset should also simulate the way in which vision actually works for a more comfortable 3D and 2D viewing experience. This would eliminate the eye strain problem.
One further potential health issue which could be caused by VR headsets as well as other wearable technology is the possibility of radiation exposure to harmful electromagnetic frequencies. This is because headsets and similar devices use WiFi or Bluetooth wireless connections to form a connection with a computer or smartphone. They also have smart sensors which enable the user to be fully immersed within the virtual experience.
Some VR headsets use smartphones and this are known to emit radiation. Several studies have indicated that radiation from cell phone scan impact on sleep patterns, mood swings, and the reproductive system and when cell phones are paired with VR headsets, these too could begin to emit radiation, posing a long-term health risk.
Electromagnetic radiation has even been linked to cancer in lab subjects and this is a worrying prospect. The WHO (World Health Organization) has indicated that cell phones could potentially be carcinogenic, with proximity to the device increasing the amount of exposure to radiation. Since headsets are designed to be worn, this is very worrying news indeed.
PlayStation VR is becoming a popular choice with users of all ages, and especially with younger children. However, both users and parents alike need to be aware that there may be risks associated with the use of headsets and virtual reality. For a start, the more people wear headsets, the less daylight they are exposed to. This, in turn, affects the way in which the human eye naturally grows and myopia or short sightedness could become a serious problem. Add into the mix the fact that virtual reality prevents the eyes from focusing naturally at a distance and the chances of myopia progressing more rapidly increase.
There are also other eye issues which have been linked to the use of PlayStation VR headsets. Eye strain and dry eyes are just two conditions which are commonly exacerbated by the fact that many people immersed within a three dimensional environment and when facing stressful gameplay situations fail to blink as frequently as they need to in order to keep their eyes fully lubricated. Over time, dry eyes leads to a lot of pain, so this is something to be aware of.
Some experts have also warned that PlayStation VR can disrupt the way in which the eyes naturally diverge and converge when focusing on objects at a range of distances. A VR headset contains two digital screens, with one being projected at each eye. This creates a stereoscopic effect which creates the illusion of depth. However, if these screens stay close to your eyes over long periods of intense use, vision strain and neurological issues can be the result.
Even more worryingly, experts at the University of California in Los Angeles have discovered that virtual experiences such as those produced by the PlayStation VR headset caused 60% of rats’ brain cells within their hippocampus region to close down. This part of the brain maps the individual’s location together with supporting a range of other functions such as dreaming, learning and memory.
If that wasn’t worrying enough, experts warn that it isn’t just the eyes that can suffer if you spend too much time using PlayStation VR. The stomach can also be affected negatively. Many people suffer terribly from motion sickness when in a virtual world wearing a headset. This can make users feel nauseous and feverish. Some people have even been physically sick after playing for periods of longer than 10 minutes. With this in mind, it’s important for users (and the parents of child users) to be aware that the use of PlayStation VR headsets isn’t entirely without its risks.
The Samsung Gear is another popular VR headset which is proving to be a top seller among a whole generation of gamers. However, like any other VR headset, it comes with some health and safety requirements to ensure that it’s safe to use and won’t cause you any major health problems.
Users are warned that they should avoid periods of prolonged use since this could have a negative impact on several functions including multi-tasking abilities, balance and hand/eye coordination. Children should always be closely monitoring both while they’re using a Samsung Gear headset and also immediately afterwards to determine whether they are displaying any signs of problems or decrease in those abilities. If users experience any unwanted symptoms such as loss of awareness, seizures, muscle or eye twitching, eye strain, double vision, blurred or altered vision, visual abnormalities, involuntary movements, lightheadedness, nausea, increased salivation, impaired balance, disorientation, dizziness, pain or discomfort in the eyes or head, fatigue, drowsiness or motion sickness they should immediately stop using the headset and take a rest.
Samsung have carried out a number of clinical trials to make sure that the Gear VR headset won’t cause any major health issues for users. The manufacturer releases their own Health and Safety manual with every purchase which warns that around one out of every 4000 users could experience seizures, dizziness, epileptic fits or even blackouts which are triggered by patterns or flashes of light. These may also occur in other circumstances such as playing games or watching TV that don’t involve wearing a VR headset. It’s important for users to be aware that seizures of this nature may occur even to people who have never had a seizure before. These seizures are most common in people aged under 20 and in children. Anybody who experiences loss of awareness, epileptic fits or seizures should always talk to their doctor before they use a headset.
Although VR is the latest technology and offers a host of benefits in different areas for users, it’s important to be aware that there are a number of important health and safety precautions which should be taken in order to use a headset and related software safely.
VR headsets produce immersive virtual reality experiences which are designed to distract the user from their surroundings. Since these headsets completely block the user’s view of the world around them, it can be very disorientating to use them. This can result in a host of problems. It’s vital to stay aware of your location, position and surroundings if you’re wearing a VR headset. Whenever possible, you should stay seated whenever you’re playing a VR game and if you’re playing a game which requires you to get up and physically move, you should take care to map out your available playing space first to avoid any undue accidents or incidents.
You should always take extra care to avoid bumping into any objects, furniture, windows, balconies, stairs or other people when wearing a headset. You don’t want to injure yourself or someone else by accidentally colliding with something or someone while playing in a virtual environment. Staircases, open windows and balconies can be a particular hazard when wearing a VR headset since you could inadvertently fall and cause yourself a serious injury. It can be very disorientating when you’re wearing a VR headset and playing in a virtual environment, and therefore you must take precautions to ensure the playing space is as safe and protective as possible before putting on the headset.
Avoid handling any dangerous or sharp objects while you’re wearing a VR headset. You should never wear your headset in any situation which requires you to pay close attention such as driving, bicycling or walking. Whenever possible, avoid standing up and moving about when your headset is connected since this can injure you or damage your device.
If you usually wear glasses, you should avoid wearing them if you’re using a VR headset. This is because you could cause yourself a facial injury should you accidentally have an impact to the face or head or if you fall when using your device. You should wear contact lenses if you require vision correction when you’re using your headset.
There are also some health precautions which you should take when it comes to the use of any VR headset. For a start, it shouldn’t really be used by any child aged 13 or under since this is a vital period for their visual development. If children use a VR headset, they should be carefully monitored by a responsible adult for the symptoms which have already been described including vision issues, motion sickness or seizures. It’s also important to limit the amount of time spent using a VR headset whether you’re an adult or a child, and to take regular breaks during your gameplay. This will help to ensure that you don’t experience any unwanted symptoms or problems due to motion sickness.
Despite all of these health and safety concerns, it’s important to note that virtual reality is and exciting development which offers a host of possibilities in the health, wellness and medicine field. Not only can virtual reality bring benefits to medical students through the use of virtual environments where they can explore the human body in intimate detail without risking harming a patient, it can also help patients themselves to stay pain-free, calm and healthy by offering a range of customized experiences. From helping those who suffer from anxiety, phobias and PTSD to expose themselves in a safe way to the source of their fear to distracting those who are undergoing extremely painful procedures, VR represents a progressive opportunity for the healthcare sector to expand its offerings and help an even greater range of people to enjoy maximum health and wellness.
The future holds a wealth of possibilities when it comes to virtual reality in the wellness sector, and we can only wait with bated breath to find out what the next few years will hold in terms of medical VR advancements.